Empowering Women Through Sports | Katayoun Khosrowyar | TEDxKish


Translator: Bob Prottas
Reviewer: Leonardo Silva What are the first images
that come to your mind when I say: “Iranian women”? Or perhaps: “Iranian women
playing sports”? Most people that I have asked this of say that they envision women
wearing all black from head to toe, riding camels throughout the desert. And the idea of women playing sports — it’s something
like competitive goat milking. I consider myself as East meets West. As I have Iranian a roots,
but was born in America. When I was 5 years old,
and living in Oklahoma – to which ironically I get questioned
a lot about, while in Iran, whether I own a gun, or if I ride a horse to school – my father insisted that all
his children play a sport, and he was adamant that I play football, because it was the only sport
that could drain my never-ending energy. I’ll never forget the first time
that I kicked my football. It really was instant gratification. While most girls were playing
with their Barbies, my football was my Barbie. And while most girls
were playing dress-up, I was that kid running
throughout the neighborhood, gathering the kids
so we could play a game. During my matches, I had 2 coaches. One, my official designated coach
that I could never hear, because the other,
unofficial coach, my father, was always yelling on the sideline: (Farsi) I did not speak Farsi growing up, but I surely did understand it. For me football was freedom. I love the way it made me feel, and the excitement
running through my veins. As I was getting older, my vision
and my goal were getting bigger. One day I wanted to play
for the Women’s National Team. In the summer of 2005,
my father surprised me and my sisters that we would be traveling
to Iran for the first time, to see my grandparents, and also to learn about our rich
culture and traditions. I was thrilled, I was excited, but I was frightened
because I thought that I could not train for football or soccer, as they call it
in America, when I was in Iran. I had no idea if that sport
existed outside of America. And also I had no time to say goodbye to my friends,
my school, or my team. So we traveled to Iran, and once I settled in,
I started to look for football. Because for me it is
my universal language, and I thought that I could
find it anywhere, even if it was across the Atlantic. My first encounter with women’s sports was when I was introduced
to go to a woman’s gym. I already had pre-misconceptions that it
was going to be a rundown building, rusted metal dumbbells,
and not many women who are active. But when I opened this door
to that gym, and I stepped in, I was in for the shock of a lifetime. Pretty much you could say
I was slapped by reality. The women in there were
from corner to corner. There wasn’t a single space
for me to participate. The fact that they were there
exercising and training was a significant moment
for me because now I realize where I had inherited
my athletic spirit from. Not long after, I started
looking harder for a place to train. I later found out that football
did not exist in Iran, but a game called “futsal” did. So imagine football, but played indoors. Instead of your usual
11 teammates, you have 5, and you can’t be as aggressive,
and I loved to tackle. So play futsal I did,
I had no other option. One day I remember that I unleashed
the football spirit inside of me, and I started tackling
the girls, and their like: (Farsi), which means: “Calm down.” But luckily, my temper became my miracle. That day, in 2005, a scout for the women’s national
football team was there, and selected me to be a part
of the first team. Again I was excited, thrilled,
but I had a decision to make, whether to go back to America
and play University ball, or stay in the country
where I did not speak the language, and where I didn’t grow up, but it was going to be the chance
of a lifetime to make history, and pave a path for other young girls. As you can see, I chose the latter. After a month and a half of training
with the Women’s National Team, we were already making headlines. “Here come the Iranian football ninjas.” (Laughter) For our first tournament
that was set to be in Jordan, the Football Federation of Iran
sent in a few men to “support us”. But you could see from their expression that they were very insecure
about our abilities, and they would ask:
“Can you even kick a ball?” (Laughter) We would just put
our heads down, and nod: “Yes, we can kick a ball.” So we knew that this was an uphill battle, where we had to gain respect
with each goal. Our first game, we ended up scoring 12. After our initial
walking through football, we decided that we wanted more. We wanted to prove to the world that even though we dress
slightly differently, we can also play. So in 2011, the Iranian
women’s national team advanced to the second round
of Olympic qualifications. If you were watching the 2012 Olympics, did you happen to see
the Iranian women play? No? So, I’ll tell you the story. While we were in the locker room,
singing our motivational songs, giving each other speeches
that we fought so hard to come here, 5 minutes before we were about to walk
onto the field to make history, the FIFA official
walked in with her head down. “What’s going on?”, we asked her. “I’m sorry girls,
you are forced to forfeit.” So, we were disqualified because we would not take off our hijab, as FIFA had just made
it a new rule and regulation that women cannot wear the hijab
during official matches. Our dreams were destroyed,
vanished into thin air. I know for a fact that several
of my teammates, they gave up so much. For example, watching their children grow,
because we practically lived in the camps, and most of us, including myself,
had daily arguments with our professors, because we were absent, and they also threatened us
that we would fail, and a lot of us quit their jobs
so they could support their families. When we came back to Tehran,
we came back empty-handed. But we did not lose
our determination to pursue this. With the help of the international
Community, and also the prince of Jordan, we formed a campaign called “Let us play.” Because it just wasn’t us
that were disqualified. Several individual women who were wearing
the hijab were also disqualified. When we came back to Tehran, we knew that we had to fight, and fight we did. Two years later, the ban was lifted. So I hope this was a lesson for most: Never say “no” to a woman,
and that being an Iranian woman. (Applause) As many organizations
that use football or sport as a hook for social change can testify, sport can bridge the gap
between religion and politics, and it is used as a natural tool
for social integration, so women with different religious
and cultural backgrounds have a safe platform
to express themselves. I’m honored now to be
the first woman, an Iranian woman, to have the FIFA “A” License for coaching. Now I know when we enter the Olympics
we won’t be disqualified. And now as a coach, there’s a lot more
responsibilities to handle especially when it comes to the personal
issues that my players have to have. For example, my forward,
my number one player, her father died, and now her mother
is suffering from cancer. Initially, she wasn’t able
to come to training, but all her teammates
were calling her continuously: “Please come back, we need you.” It took her some time,
but she did end up coming back. But she came back a lot stronger. She knows that her mother might
not survive for another couple months, but she has a goal,
and an aim in her life, and that is to be a role model
for her country. Now we’re 15 years into the 21st century, and I hope to be able to push the barriers
of international discrimination while following the laws
of my country, because I love it. With the help of other women who have initiated change
in their respective sport, we want to prove to the world that we’re just as talented, and we can compete
at an international level. I imagine a world, where young girls do not have to ask: “Why can I not follow my dream?” You should be able to open up
your country’s potential through any path and direction. I chose football,
because it’s what I know. With so many exciting paths,
and directions out there, which one are you going to choose? Thank you. (Applause)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *