Calgary Muslim girls soccer team bond on field and off
U-14 team tackle stereotypes, inexperience and Ramadan together
Kicking soccer balls gives Setra Ahmad a chance to unleash her feelings and let off some steam.
It also means a lot to her that everyone on her team is a Muslim girl.
"It means I can tell my feelings to the other teammates because they can understand how I feel sometimes," said the 14-year-old.
"Like, I heard this girl on the field say this stuff about our hijabs or something like that, and like they understand and say 'Oh, I heard that, too,'" Ahmad said.
She plays on an under-14 girls team in the MAC United Soccer Club — the only Muslim professional soccer club in Calgary.
The club, which is also part of the Calgary Minor Soccer Association, started out as one men's team in 1999. Then it expanded to include boys teams and eventually girls teams in 2013.
In just a few short years, interest from girls in the local Muslim community has spiked. It's even outpaced interest from the boys.
"The girls, they like to play sport, and due to the culture and wearing the hijab they feel kind of, you know, not in place to play with other teams. So when we opened up to older girls they were very interested to play," said club president Ahmad Haydar.
U-14 team top of division
This team has a lot to be proud of, too.
It was just created last fall during the indoor season. Coach Fatat Hammoud says some of the girls started from scratch and had to be taught the basics, but they flourished.
"They want to learn. And they want to compete. They're almost like we've got to prove something," said Hammoud.
The team ended the indoor season at the top of their division. They also won a family day tournament and went on to win an inter-city championship.
But they may not be able to end on a high note during the current outdoor season.
Ramadan makes playing 'a bit harder'
"Hoping to win ... But it's Ramadan so we're fasting and it's a bit harder," said 13-year-old Rayan Jehe.
"It's been hard because we can't drink our water, we have to spit it out, so like our mouth gets really dry," adds Ahmad.
On the sidelines the teammates grab water bottles and spray one another down. They take a lot of breaks by rotating more often.
"It's kind of hard when it's sunny and stuff but we have a good support group here, so it's easy to know you are playing with your friends and we are all going through it together."
The plan is to continue to expand the number of girls teams to meet the demand. The club's president says they are only limited by the number of volunteers they can recruit and resources.
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