"Football is for everyone" - community football in Cairo
Our Egyptian photographer is Passant Mehwad, a football coach and player for the Egypt women’s national football team. Passant is a coach with the Premier Skills programme, an international partnership between the English Premier League and British Council that has operated in 29 countries across Asia, Africa and the Americas.
Premier Skills helps the development of community coaches and referees all over the world, teaches leadership skills and produces learning materials to enhance people’s English language skills. Since Premier Skills began in 2007, 6,300 coaches and referees have been trained in 29 countries, who in turn have reached nearly one million young people.
Passant took her photos in the streets of Helwan, a deprived area of Cairo, as well as during Premier Skills training sessions. We spoke to Passant about her photos and women’s football in Egypt.
How did you become involved with Premier Skills?
My coach Ahmed Kamal is the coach of Al-Tayaran Club and works at the Ministry of Sports. He knew about Premier Skills, so he nominated Fayza Haider (Fayza is a football player in the Egyptian national team and a Premier Skills Coach Educator) and me, as we were in his team.
What did you try to show with the photos? Was there any wider meaning to the photos?
Some of these photos show a poor young girl playing football with other boys in the street. I wanted to show that football does not discriminate - it is for everyone, not only the rich. They show that the poor can play football even if they have nothing, and that football exists even if people cannot see it or do not want to see it. I wanted to convey that football is played everywhere, especially in deprived areas where football is like oxygen to people.
What are your favourite shots?
My favourites are two photos - one that shows a pigeon house in the shape of a football pitch, the other photo is a girl playing football in the street with two boys. The boys have no problem playing with a girl even though she happens to be deaf and mute. Other photos are from Premier Skills training sessions...it is not important who is in the photos. It is important that football is for everyone.
Why is football so important for Egypt and Egyptians? Is football more important right now due to the political situation?
Football is the most loved and watched sport in Egypt, which gives us the opportunity to benefit the community and to reach more people. I believe that sport can correct people’s behaviour in general. However it is a double-edged sword, as football can be used to unite people for the benefit of their country or can be used to create chaos.
What does football mean to you? How has it changed your life?
I have played football since I was four years old, so football is my life. It has changed my life for the better, because engaging in sports protects you from indulging in bad habits or anti-social behaviour. Football makes me feel good about myself.
When I started playing football it was considered a very weird thing for a little girl to play football in the street. When I turned 10 I joined the Egyptian national team, as there were no clubs at that time. I was the youngest member of the team! I am still the only female football player in my family and even in the area where I grew up.
How many children do you coach? Who are they?
I started coaching seven years ago in 2008. Since I started coaching, I have coached around 1,500 children between 4 and 25 years old, both males and females but mostly females. They all come from different backgrounds.
Are local people supportive of Premier Skills and girls playing football?
At first people in Egypt rejected the idea of a girl playing football, making fun of her and underestimating her capabilities. But when they start watching her play they understand how capable she is. Previously the percentage of people against women playing football was 90% but now I can proudly say that it has fallen to 30%. Society is now more open-minded than before, due to initiatives like Premier Skills.
Football is now played everywhere, not only in clubs but also in schools and universities so it has become a normal thing. In the working class districts more people are still against women playing football due to customs and traditions that make people think football is for boys only. However, when my colleague Fayza Haider and I started our project we were able to convince almost 50% of the parents to let their girls play football.
What is your ambition with football?
Before I joined Premier Skills my ambition was to live and play football abroad, but after I joined Premier Skills I realised that this is not my real ambition. My real ambition is to empower and give the opportunity to every girl who wants to play football. I want women’s football to grow in Egypt and become free from discrimination, because I know a lot of talented girls who play football much better than boys and deserve the opportunity to be recognised. I hope I can inspire others to play football and give young people the same opportunities that I was given. I want to organise tournaments and workshops for them like Premiers Skills does so that they can achieve their dreams.
How did people respond to being photographed?
The two young boys kept laughing at first, but they were happy at the idea of being photographed because it is very rare in their area. Everybody else was very happy too, especially when they knew that it was supported by the British Council project - the British Council has a very good reputation in Egypt.