From bringing more than 400 girls to play football, to training 61 female coaches, this 26-year-old is changing the perception of women in sports.
For the hijab-clad girls of Madanpura, coming to the community ground and indulging in sports, seemed like a distant dream. A Muslim dominated area — hub for men’s football and dotted with girl schools — the place always witnessed men coming out in hordes to master their football skills, while the girls stayed indoors.
However, things changed for Madanpura in the summer of 2017 when Tanaz Mohammed, a grassroots development officer with Mumbai City FC, was sent there to conduct a community summer camp.
“At Mumbai City FC, we are taping areas where football is not played much. So we do that by organising community programs. We also work towards providing exposure to kids or people who are new to the sport,” says Mohammed.
During her research for the camp, when the coach saw over 800 boys register, she could not help but wonder where the girls had gone. With thsi question in mind, she urged the mothers present there to send their girls to the camp, but was met with reluctant stares. “They were worried about who will be coaching them, what they have to wear and what about their safety,” recalls Mohammed.
In efforts to assuage the mothers, she promised her presence during the camp and told them that the girls can play even in their hijabs and salwars. “All they need is their foot to play football, the rest is not important,” says the 26-year-old.
To her surprise, more than 400 little girls in their hijabs and salwaars turned up for the camp. Since then, all the girl schools in the area have started their own football teams and are actively taking part in inter-school football tournaments. “I think the whole ‘role model’ idea worked there. I come from a Muslim background, and they saw someone from their community doing well,” she smiles.
In addition, Mohammed even saw the burkha-clad mothers coming out on the ground and working out. “Mothers started asking me if there is something they can do too. To my shock, more than 50 ladies in their hijabs and burkhas came regularly to the camp, and the number just kept increasing each day. I showed them some exercises for their back pain, and other basic exercises that can help them with their daily lifestyle,” recalls Mohammed, who till date gets calls from mothers asking her for more fitness tips.
According to the coach, the change came about with the idea that girls can play football even with their hijabs and pants. “Most girls don’t come out due to self-made barriers. They believe certain things are just not meant for them. To that I say ‘just go out there and do it’,” she urges.
For someone who has seen and overcome the bleak situation for girls in sports, Mohammed’s resolve to change this scenario is rock solid. In the same regard, just last month, she conducted a one-day workshop for 61 women coaches from all over the country.
“The theory part involved educating them on how to conduct football training sessions for boys and girls together, as well as the roles and responsibilities of a good coach. In the practical part on the ground, I gave them some tricks and techniques for football coaching,” she lists. Currently, all 61 women coaches are training in their respective states.
As for her future endeavours, Mohammed aims at conducting coaching workshops only for women. “I think I have done my bit when it comes to getting the players out. Now, we need more coaches,” she concludes.