Morocco’s national women’s soccer team is set to make its first appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup. After years of being largely hidden, Moroccan women’s soccer is gaining new ground at home and around the world.
During one game in May, the crowd was not very big. The game was between a Moroccan national women's professional league team and the armed forces team called ASFAR. ASFAR, a strong women’s team in Morocco, won 7 to 0.
One young fan in the crowd was still very excited.
Dressed in a shirt reading “Morocco” in Arabic, Aliae Benazzouza went to the field to meet the players.
“I was very happy,” the young girl said.
Idriss Benazzouza is Aliae’s father. “I teach (my daughters) confidence, not fear,” he said. “Sports don’t differentiate between genders.”
The women’s national team is known as the Lionesses. Benazzouza said the Lionesses show “how women’s soccer has progressed” in the North African country. He said the team has filled him with joy. He added, though, that not everyone he knows shares his happiness. Those with conservative views or religious beliefs are opposed to women wearing shorts.
The national team’s upcoming Women's World Cup appearance follows the male team’s historic semifinal run in the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The team gained support from other Arab countries.
That year, Morocco also hosted the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations. The event drew large numbers of fans and increased enthusiasm for this year’s worldwide women’s tournament.
“The qualification of the women’s team for the finals at the Africa Cup of Nations … breathed new life into women’s soccer in Morocco,” said Khadija Illa. She president of the national women’s soccer league.
Team victories, she said, were the results of efforts in recent years by the Royal Moroccan Football Federation to develop soccer, including for women. Female players and teams had often been ignored in Morocco and the Arab world.
Those efforts include the hiring of the Lionesses’ coach Reynald Pedros. The Moroccan federation also supports women’s clubs with salaries. Providing financial help was part of an agreement announced in 2020 for the growth and professionalization of women’s soccer.
Hiba Karami plays for a local team called Fath Union Sport. The advancement in women’s soccer has made a dream of hers a reality. Last year, Karami was one of the players representing Morocco in the FIFA under-17 Women’s World Cup.
“Some kids or men would say that women belonged in the kitchen and weren’t made for soccer,” she said. “I knew that I loved the game and that I will play.”
Boys in her neighborhood accepted her “because I played better than they did,” Karami said.
Nouhaila Benzina also plays for the national team and for ASFAR. She said her soccer career has opened up new possibilities for her. The 25-year-old never saw soccer in conflict with her modest clothing and the Islamic headscarf she wears on and off the field.
Many think of her as a role model.
“This ... makes me want to work harder to show girls that they can achieve great things,” Benzina said.
In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, women’s soccer is limited by financing or conservative feelings. But the game is making new pushes in places when there are official efforts to develop the game.
Ahmed Qoffa is a shopkeeper in Gaza, ruled by the militant Hamas group. He said he supported Morocco’s men’s team but has a problem with female players wearing shorts.
“If it is within the legal, cultural and societal limits, then there is no problem,” he said.
In Egypt, 61-year-old Hassan Yousef argued that soccer “is a rough game that is not at all fit for women.” He said he would not enjoy watching women play.
Dr. Husam Mokhtar, a Libyan in Egypt, said he doubts women’s soccer can become as popular as men’s. He added that “soccer is a men’s game.”
His 13-year-old daughter, Miral, disagreed. “Every sport should be played by everyone,” she said.
I’m Dan Novak.
Dan Novak adapted this story for VOA Learning English based on reporting from Associated Press.
Words in This Story
gender — n. a person's own sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female
view — n. an opinion or way of thinking about something
shorts — n. short pants that reach down to the knees
host — n. a person who is entertaining guests socially
enthusiasm — n. strong excitement about something
qualify — v. to give the necessary skill or knowledge to do a particular job or activity
modest — adj. not very large in size or amount
role model — n. someone who another person admires and tries to be like
achieve — v. to get or reach by working hard
society — n. people in general thought of as living together in organized communities with shared laws, traditions, and values