CHANGING JORDAN SPORT FOREVER
Sep 28, 2016
It goes without saying that Jordan has had its best ever summer of sport in 2016 with Olympic and Paralympic success followed by this week’s medal-strewn Asian Beach Games.
Asian and world glory is being achieved regularly now in other sports proving that there is every reason to be optimistic for a prosperous sporting future.
It is, of course, the result of hard work from the athletes and coaches, but credit should also be given to the back rooms of federations and the Jordan Olympic Committee where plans are hatched, supported and funded to provide the best support possible on the meagre resources available.
More can always be done, but it has to start somewhere and if 2016 is the key to the ignition that we have been looking for, then hop on board for a fun ride ahead.
And that ride is about to take Jordan into the relative unknown this weekend.
The Kingdom, which has hosted world championships in triathlon, fencing, snooker, rallying and cross country running before, is gearing up for FIFA to bring its U17 Women’s World Cup to town.
In fact, make that three ‘towns’ to be precise with the capital Amman joined by Zarqa and Irbid in hosting the sporting world on a scale we haven’t seen before.
We caught up with two of the key stars of the show – Jordan captain Luna Sahloul, 17, and Leen Al Btoush, 15, the charismatic striker described as the team’s livewire.
The girls have battled against the tired old cultural stigmas associated with young girls playing sport, particularly football, in the Arab World to take their place at the very top table – a World Cup representing their country.
It is the stuff of dreams and the girls are well aware that their role extends much further than just a few football matches.
“It is the highest honour for any footballer to participate in a World Cup, so I am proud to be leading my country in a tournament being played in my own country,” said Luna, a defender who exudes huge confidence, making it easy to see why she has been selected as the team’s leader.
“We are all well aware of our responsibilities, not just as footballers but as young Jordanian women and girls trying to make a difference here.
“This event will hopefully capture the imagination of the whole country. By holding it here, we have the opportunity to show Jordan that girls are no different to boys and we can show parents that there is nothing wrong with their daughters playing football, or indeed any sport.
“No matter what our results are as a team, if we have changed the Jordanian mindset at the end of this tournament that we will be the winners.”
The organisers have pulled off a stunning job. Two stadiums in Amman and the ones in Irbid and Zarqa have been ‘saved’ with an injection of JD 25 million to be good enough to meet strict FIFA standards.
Some will say Jordan should have this sort of money spent elsewhere but local observers are quick to point out that without this tournament, the stadiums were close to being condemned as unsafe so when FIFA look for sustainable examples, they need look no further than Jordan this month.
Leen, waiting for her leader to finish her impressive response to probing questions, replicates the same sort of passion that one hopes is running throughout the team as they prepare to meet European heavyweights Spain in Friday’s opener.
“This tournament is huge for the Arab World, and not just Jordan,” she said. “I really hope lots of families come to watch, not only the Jordan game but also the other matches to show that girls from everywhere in the world are succeeding.
“Football has instilled my self-confidence. I started playing when I was five and it has been with me throughout my life. I was playing with the children in the neighborhood but was spotted through a programme named ‘Steps’ which included football, so I moved to the national U14 team when I was 10 and have stepped up now to the U17 side.”
The skipper’s love affair with football started from the day she registered with the sports club she was living next door to. She was spotted early and has spent her teenage years as a national team player at various age levels since.
The sporting landscape changed forever in Jordan on August 18 when taekwondo star Ahmad Abu Ghaush, 20, secured gold – Jordan’s first ever medal – at the Rio Olympics.
It has stirred a nation and the girls are using his achievement as a source of inspiration ahead of the biggest moments of their lives.
“Ahmad is a hero to every Jordanian and showed that we are good enough to be the best in the world at whatever we do,” said Luna. “He is someone we can all call our idol now whereas before everyone was looking to overseas athletes. He has changed the way we all look at sport and we want to play our part now in inspiring the next generation.”
News from the ticket office is encouraging too. Understandably some of the group games are slow sellers but this Friday’s Jordan match is expected to be a sell-out with 20,000 fans cramming into the Amman International Stadium.
Expectations have to be realistic. Despite training hard for months the girls will be up against it from their more illustrious opposition. But there is one thing that this summer has taught us, never underestimate the Jordanians!