Friday 28 June 2024, 12:30

“Tremendous responsibility”: Nadia Nadim explains why football can improve people's lives

  • Danish international fled Afghanistan with her family during childhood

  • Football can open doors that would otherwise remain shut, says Nadim

  • Footballers can have “huge impact” if they promote social causes

Nadia Nadim, the former refugee who fled Afghanistan during her childhood and became a successful international footballer with Denmark, believes that players and organisations such as FIFA have a huge opportunity to promote positive social change thanks to the sport’s incredible popularity.

“I think we have a tremendous responsibility just because of the position that we have," said Nadim, who has made over 100 appearances for Denmark and scored 38 goals. For me, FIFA – and football in general – has a big, big voice and platform; it has tremendous power to really go in and say: 'This is what we want,' and they can do it because it’s FIFA.”

Speaking to FIFA staff at the Home of FIFA, she explained that football could open doors that would otherwise remain firmly shut. “The reason why football can change points of view is because it’s something that’s so close to us. Everyone loves sport; everyone loves football because it’s the biggest sport on the planet.”

FIFA has recognised football’s potential to spread positive messages and the sixth of its strategic objectives for the 2023-2027 cycle is to focus on social responsibilities. “I know FIFA’s trying to do a lot. I know there are a lot of NGOs who use sports around the world. When I have time, I try to do kind of similar things because you get in places where people are super shut down.

"They would never talk to you if you came with the idea directly. So, how do you create the bond? With sports. You start playing and, boom, one thing leads to another,” she explained. “I love doing it because… I know the impact that it’s going to have because I’ve been on the other side. I know little things can have a huge impact.”

Nadim is a remarkable example of how sport and education can empower women. She grew up in a country where women were not allowed to leave the house without a male relative, lost her freedom under the Taliban and then lived in poverty in a refugee camp in Denmark, yet went on to become a professional footballer and, now, a qualified doctor.

“If you’re a girl in certain parts of the world, your box is very, very tiny. It’s limited as to what you’re allowed to do. Your life’s set up – and by 18 or 19, you’re married and good luck,” she said. But she recalled how the same neighbours who frowned upon her playing football as a girl changed their minds after she made her debut for Denmark. “The same people who would tell me six months ago I should quit, came to me and said, ´Where should my daughter start to play? Where can you take her? Because she could become a national team player too´."

Nadia Nadim from Denmark in action followed by Sjoeke Nuesken from Germany

Nadim was delighted with the way women’s football has grown in the last few years, culminating with a transformative FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023. “I’m really, really proud to be a part of it and I know that the women’s game is going to reach heights that we didn’t even imagine before. It’s not going to happen overnight; it’s going to require a lot of work,” she said.

In 2021, FIFA assisted in the evacuation of approximately 160 at-risk Afghan athletes, officials and women's rights activists as well as their close family members and the interview with Nadim took place as their relocation to safe environments was concluded.

Nadim herself still follows events in the country of her birth. “I’ve been really close to everything happening. My younger sister, Diana, who actually also played football with me and was the 'keeper for the Afghan national team. She was really, really good when we were younger, we played on the same teams and then she chose boxing and became the seven-time Danish champion.”

The Game Changers - Dr. Nadia Nadim