Iqra Ismail Exclusive Interview: Somali Muslim Coach Overcoming Racism to Inspire Women to Play Soccer | football news

“It’s always difficult trying to prove that you have a right to be in a particular space,” says Iqra Ismail. sky sports. “But it got to the point where I stopped asking for the table space. I just created my own table instead.”

Ismail is an inspiration. Born and raised in Britain, she has since captained the Somalia national team and in 2019 she became the youngest person to ever top the Football Blacklist. She is a trainer, a Muslim who wears a hijab and is doing a lot to change perceptions and lives.

Representing Somalia was the highlight. “It was a great experience putting on the shirt. Nothing better than playing for your country and above all wearing the armband.” But, as a Chelsea fan, working on a campaign with Didier Drogba earlier this year came close.

“He’s really one of the players that motivated me to grow. They say you don’t know your role models, but he’s an amazing person.”

Now, Ismail is lending his time and voice to another initiative.

This summer, BOXPARK launched its #WomxnWhoPlay campaign to champion women in sports, collaborating with a dozen female pioneers in the industry.

Ismail is one of them, hoping to help tackle the alarming statistic that more than a million girls in the UK lose interest in sport as teenagers, with 68 per cent of them saying fear of feeling judged is what has prevented them from participating.

“It always starts with the same. ‘I haven’t played football since I was 16 or since I left school.’ It is always around that age when you stop doing compulsory PE at school and you lose interest because they do it. I don’t really have a way to enter directly.

“They don’t find those safe spaces where they want to play soccer or whatever sport it is. By creating those spaces and championing women in those spaces, those are the things that will make these women believe that they can participate again.”

Iqra Ismail wants to inspire the next generation of female athletes and sports enthusiasts

Ismail is not just a woman, not just a black woman, but a Muslim black woman who wears a hijab. What she describes as the “intersectionality” of her particular circumstance has led her to greater challenges than most, from ignorance to overt racism.

“There are many spaces where you should be welcome and you are not. With me, there were many problems. Some were more direct than others.

“I think you know intrinsically that things are wrong, that certain conversations are not right. But only looking back as an adult can you understand why they were wrong.”

“For example, having a coach who wasn’t sure what kind of uniform we should wear. It came from a good place, but it was also a testament to the fact that there aren’t many Muslim women in football, not enough for him.” “. knowing what to do in that situation.

“There were referees saying I couldn’t play with my hijab on for health and safety reasons. Other teams were calling me names, everything under the sun you can think of. But I’m stubborn. Few things would stop me.” doing what I wanted to do.”

Ismail shouldn’t have to be like this to achieve what he has, but his determination is a trait he speaks of with pride. “I’m really headstrong. That’s probably what got me through it in the end.” Where does he come from? “My mom,” he adds.

“She’s my biggest role model. Definitely. She was a very resilient woman. She makes the best of a bad situation every time. We’re very attached to our faith.”

Believing that football was a realistic possibility for someone like Ismail required a lot of that when he started playing at the age of eight. As the saying goes, if you see it, you can be it. Ismail saw no one.

“If you were to Google Muslim women playing football, not a lot would have come up 15 years ago. There’s a lot more inclusion within the sport now. I look at people like JJ Roble (the Somali-born British football referee) who It looks like I.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because I wish I had that when I was young.”

The next generation has that, thanks to people like Ismail.

Does anyone ever tell her that she is inspiring them? She laughs. “Actually, I’ve had that. It doesn’t get any less sweet. It makes me cry because I can see myself in them. Hopefully now there are players to look up to as role models.”

“I always had to settle because I would take what I could get. I couldn’t get a Muslim woman, I couldn’t get a Somali woman maybe, but I was able to get a black woman and I supported her because she looked better.” like me in that lineup. She is moving.

“Women may want to be the next Iqra Ismail.

“It’s a bit heavy, but it’s also definitely a blessing. I know it’s a big responsibility.”

Iqra Ismail supports BOXPARK in launching its #WomxnWhoPlay campaign to champion women in sport and inspire the next generation of athletes and sports enthusiasts.
Iqra Ismail supports BOXPARK in launching its #WomxnWhoPlay campaign

While moving forward, Ismail cannot ignore setbacks.

Racism remains the scourge of society and there are great concerns.

“I think it’s important to take off the rose-colored glasses sometimes and look at reality. I think we’ve come a long way from a sporting aspect in terms of developing women’s football, but in terms of intersectionality, what about me? As a black muslim woman?

“We have made progress, but there are things that have set us back. The most notable is the French hijab ban. I can’t believe something like this is happening in 2022 in such an important country. Everyone should have the freedom to have the same access.” . to sport.

“Something has to be done to combat that because this is no way for us to continue living. How can you ask a young Muslim woman to continue her interest in football when she is reporting the news and seeing that a whole country would not ?”. let her do it?

“These are tough times. That’s the best way for me to put it.”

But there is hope.

Ismail has ambitions to play for Somalia again, as the pandemic stopped that opportunity. Her role as Director of Soccer for her at Hilltop Women’s FC also remains a priority.

“Knowing that I’m giving other people room to play means a lot to me. More than scoring any goal or throwing a 60-yard pass.”

Other than that, she is open-minded.

“The way my friends and I describe it is that we run on vibes. What I’ve learned during the pandemic is that setting goals can be exhausting. The main thing is to keep moving forward.”

For her and others, Iqra Ismail is making that happen.

Following the launch of its #WOMXNWHOPLAY campaign, BOXPARK will continue to honor women in sport with every venue in London screening the games. All England matches will be broadcast on the big screens and all other matches will be shown on their BeatBox and Terrace Bars.

Tickets for screenings of the Women’s Euro Cup are free, but entry is not guaranteed. Get tickets here:

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