FEATURE: Why is Egyptian Women’s Volleyball so much more successful than football?
While Egypt’s women national volleyball team is one of the strongest African teams in the continent, ranked second, and managed to win the African volleyball championship three times, the women’s football team has been struggling for a long time, having qualified to the Women’s African cup of Nations recently for just the second time in their history and the first in 18 years.
Today, the Egyptian National Women’s Football team has yet to qualify to the FIFA World Cup. Currently ranked 80th in the world, the Pharaohs have only managed to qualify to the African Cup of Nations twice, and exiting from the first round. On the other hand, the Egyptian national volleyball team is one of the strongest in the continent. Not only did they manage to qualify to the World Cup three times before, they were crowned African champions on three occasions. This raises many questions concerning the reasons behind this failure.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors that affects women’s football in Egypt is the gender stereotypes that starts from a very early age. Before the 1990s, women playing football in Egypt was considered to be an opposition to the social traditions and religious norms.
To add, falling in love with a beautiful sport such as football from a young age is usually catalyzed by the parents. As people tend to treat football as a man’s sport, parents often push their young boys to play football in the streets, parks and clubs. On the other hand, young girls are usually stimulated to participate in more feminine sports such as gymnastics, volleyball and squash. As a result, a huge gap between the two sports has emerged and even women who start their football career later in life suffer from a competitive disadvantage compared with other countries in the region, as most athletes excel in their sports because they start at a very early age, practice for years and gain experience.
Volleyball is a very popular sport in most domestic clubs around the country. Not only is it popular among young girls and their parents, who are not looking for a physical contact sports for their daughters, but also clubs, who benefit widely from participating in domestic leagues and African championships. For instance, clubs such as Al Shams and Al Ahly have recently participated in the Women’s African Club Championship gaining the second and fourth place respectively. In fact, Al Ahly’s women national team holds the record of the most successful African women’s volleyball team, having won the competition eight times before and being the runners up seven other times. This record is enough to show the huge benefit that clubs receive from prizes, accolades and the government’s recognition.
Conversely, the less than modest support that domestic clubs contribute to the women’s football is one of the main reasons for this difference. Most clubs around the country, including Al Ahly and Zamalek, do not have or intend to form a women’s team for both financial and public support. Furthermore, several clubs have numerously refused to permit several women teams to use their grounds for practice as they are only used by the men’s football teams. This started to change in the 1990s as Sahar El-Hawary, daughter of a former football referee and current board member of the football federation, has initiated the women’s football national team. With the FIFA and Egyptian football federation little support, El-Hawary managed to scout and train young girls in hopes of growing the popularity nationwide.
One of the most important ingredients to popularize a sport is the media. If viewers are not exposed to more women’s football, their interest will not grow. The Egyptian media gives almost no attention to the women’s football, as they do not attract the same public interest as the men’s football, even though the Egyptian women’s clubs are almost 20 teams. This lack of coverage affects the football players themselves negatively. “I honestly don’t think the media are interested in covering women’s football. The people in charge give it less attention than the men’s game”, said Yasmin Samir, Egypt’s national team midfielder.
Although, women’s volleyball does not receive the required media coverage that it deserves. The public support it experience is vast from both club’s fan bases and supporters such as Ultras Ahlawy.
Egypt’s women football has made revolutionary changes in the past decade, but it is still not enough. At the club level, there are three competitive leagues with more than 20 official teams around the nation with Wadi Degla club is considered to be the most successful in the country, having won the league nine times in a row in the past 10 years. The national team is still suffering from the lack of administrative support and there is spacious room for improvement with more training and participation in international competitions.
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