Lebanese women futsal players kick down barriers

Lebanese women futsal players kick down barriers

BEIRUT - A group of Lebanese women have shrugged off family disapproval and paltry resources to create their country's first female league for futsal - the faster, five-a-side variety of football.

"My family was against me playing at the start. They'd say neither football nor futsal is a women's sport, but I fought for it, and kept on training," said Aya Chiry, 27.

Today, Chiry is the captain of a Lebanese women's futsal team called the Stars Academy for Sports, who last week took part in the opening round of Lebanon's first national women's futsal league.

Chiry, who lives in Beirut, eventually managed to convince her parents "by studying extra-hard and by just keeping at it, showing them that this is what makes me happy".

Without an official five-a-side league, there was little opportunity for either her talent or women's futsal to be recognised.

"I've been playing for five years, and the sport has taken me to Spain, Italy and Jordan for games. But we didn't have a league in Lebanon. I'm really proud we do now," Chiry said.

Like Chiry, many girls on the team have faced a lifetime of discouragement, mostly from family members who felt the game was unsuitable for women.

But today Chiry combines her love for the game with her MBA studies in marketing and her job at a skincare company.

Among the team's new recruits is Aya al-Khatib, a 20-year-old Palestinian from Jericho, who travelled to Lebanon to play in the opening season.

"Football and futsal have been part of my life since I was 11 years old," said Khatib, who wears her hair short and dyed platinum blond.

For her, sport is about much more than exercise.

"Sport is the only thing that brings us together. People from many countries that have suffered problems in the past have overcome them through sport," said Khatib, who is a midfielder on the team.

'What our region needs'

"The fact that you have to shake hands with your adversary at the start of every game means you are contributing to peace, and that is what our region needs," she added.

For the Lebanese members of the team too, the game is a chance to forget the sectarian and political barriers that so deeply divide their country.

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