Leoni FC changing the face of women's football in the UAE

Hiba Khan - Writer 14:04 21/07/2019
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As the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup ended on a high with the United States claiming their fourth title just a few weeks ago, the tournament was a clear indication of how the general landscape of women’s sports had changed for the better over the last couple of years.

For UAE, the manifestation of that change can be seen with the emergence of clubs like Leoni FC, an all-female Dubai-based football club, and the reigning champions of the 2019 Ahdaaf Cup, who are dedicatedly showing that they are truly a force to be reckoned with.

The premise of the club’s creation was laid by current captain, Dalia Abdelrahman, who had the idea of making an all-girls team along with a few of her university friends, purely out of love for the sport.

“We just wanted to play football,” the 22-year-old told Sport360. “At the time, our university did not have any teams for the girls, so we spoke to the administration and started training on our own after the boys’ football team. We were playing for fun and really wanted to play competitively.

“Initially I was training the girls along with my friend, but eventually coach Tariq came along, at the time he was just looking for female footballers for a tournament and ended up coaching us.”

The collaboration between Abdelrahman and coach Tariq Mohammed eventually led to the formation of Leoni FC and, even though the club came in to existence only in January 2017, they are not just competing but winning trophies as well.

Before coach Tariq’s involvement with Leoni had begun, the 31-year-old was also of the opinion that the sport of football is too exclusive to men. However, when he saw the lengths to which the girls were willing to go just to play the sport, his views drastically changed and, in the process, he also realised what an anathema these views were and the extent to which they held the players back.

Player attrition and convincing the parents were just some of the challenges the coach had to face during the initial stages.

“It took me a long time to convince the parents and make the girls believe that they can do everything men can, if not better,” he said.

“It was difficult to get the number of girls to actually a form a team. There were a lot of girls who were coming and going, and being part of the team is a commitment, so it just took some time to finally find the girls who were willing to put in the commitment and set a team that was capable of competing and winning tournaments and leagues.”

Both Abdelrahman and coach Tariq have huge plans for the team. Abdelrahman hopes that Leoni FC’s success will inspire the giants of the local men’s professional Arabian Gulf League, clubs like Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club to finally create women’s squads. Unbeknownst to the team, coach Tariq’s goal is also to create the UAE’s first football club for women.

He said: “Hopefully in the near future, my goal, which they (the girls) have not heard about yet, is for them to form the first football club for women in the region. That’s my ultimate goal for them and I don’t think they deserve anything less than that.”

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