Monday 07 March 2022, 23:00

Three nations, one goal: Supporting women’s football

  • Three-nation tournament made up of Saudi Arabia, Maldives and Seychelles

  • Pele leads praise as Saudi Arabia’s women’s team makes history

  • Seychelles continue long-awaited return to international arena

With its white sandy beaches, blue lagoons and extensive coral reefs, many people consider the Maldives to be a magical place. That includes the country’s women’s national team, as well as those of Saudi Arabia and Seychelles – albeit for a different reason entirely. In February, the three teams participated in a historic friendly tournament in the tropical paradise. The Maldives women’s national team was established in 2003 and went on to play their first official international fixture the following year against Myanmar, which they lost 17-0. They recorded their first victory in 2012, which had a major impact on the perception of women’s football. “After that win, the way people and the way society thought slowly began to change,” said Mariyam Mirfath, the first captain of the Maldives. “We also had a good team back then. After 2012 we drew a few games, won a few and lost a few. But not like in 2004, when we were defeated 17-0. At the moment there are over 100 girls in the FAM (Football Association of Maldives) Academy. I think setting up that academy was good for the future. We’re still lacking a women’s league though.”

After all, practice makes perfect. Regular training sessions, league matches and international friendlies are essential to drive women’s football forward. The three-nations tournament was a further step along this path. “We need more games, like friendlies for example, because that way more women would take an interest in 11-a-side football,” said Maldives international Shahula Thaufeeq.

First win for Seychelles under Angeline Chua

While Maldives are already on the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s World Ranking (in 152nd place, as of December 2021), Seychelles are still fighting for a rung on the ladder. Coach Angelina Chua’s side travelled to the Maldives in order to improve on their showing at the tournament in Dubai, where they lost twice to United Arab Emirates in September 2021. “Last year we had the opportunity to play our first international game in 16 years,” said Chua, who is also the head of women’s football in the Seychelles. “We want to make it the norm for the women’s team to play when the men’s team does. I think there are still some obstacles for girls in the Seychelles. We want to try to organise more football activities so that more girls take part and the talent pool grows.

“Right now we have three clubs that were founded by women,” continued Chua, who is working on the development and implementation of a long-term strategic plan for girls' and women's football. “Most of our players come from these clubs. They’ve played on the street and in school. That’s our talent pool.” A talent pool that, after a 1-0 defeat against the host nation, managed to record their first victory under former Singapore international Chua with a 4-0 triumph over The Daughters of the Waves. “I’m very proud of what the girls have achieved. We won our first game in the Maldives and we can return home with our heads held high.”

The task now is on build on that positive development, to drive forward the creation of a national women’s football competition and to push for opportunities to strengthen the role of women in the game, not only as players but also as coaches and officials. “We’re trying to establish a women’s league,” said Chua. “It’s no easy task. If you look at what Saudi Arabia did with their league, they started out with an eight-a-side division, which was our vision too. This year we’ll start with a nine-a-side league. We congratulate Saudi Arabia on making history, and in order to pay respect to them we also gave our best out on the pitch.”

Of course there are still people who doubt that we can play football. But when a woman or a girl has an objective in life, they can achieve it and just forget about the people who don’t support others.

"Today is a historic day, not only for them, but for everyone who loves football"

Chua was referring to Saudi Arabia’s historic moment at the mini tournament in the Maldives when they beat Seychelles 2-0 in their maiden international match. The result brought the team and their German coach Monika Staab international acclaim, led by Brazilian football legend Pele.

Even before the match had kicked off, Maldives Minister for Sport, Ahmed Mahloof, underlined the significance of the occasion: “We are very happy and very excited that this game is happening in the Maldives. We are very happy to host Saudi Arabia for their first football match.

"The attention of this match has been expressed by many legends like Pele himself. It shows the importance of women getting the opportunity to take part in sports and other duties as well. We are delighted and we look forward to cooperating with Saudi Arabia and other countries in developing women’s football. “We are in the process of developing 100 football pitches in the Maldives and we have already completed close to 30. One thing we did is to make the salaries of the women’s and men’s national teams equal. I’m very happy that this has been done in the first 100 days.”