In a bid to inspire young women in Qatar to increase their involvement in the world of sports, students at Northwestern University in Qatar have initiated the university’s first women’s soccer team.
Motivated in part by a recent study conducted by Assistant Professor in Residence Geoff Harkness, which showed that females represent only 7.3 percent of athletes registered to sportsfederations and clubs, students Maha Al-Ansari and AlDana Al Misned recruited members for the soccer team in hopes of encouraging more females to join and be active members of the sports community.
According to Professor Harkness, who authored ‘Out of Bounds: Cultural Barriers to Female Sports Participation in Qatar ’ in The International Journal of the History of Sports, “female athletes in Qatar encounter numerous barriers to participation, including issues related to religion, family and changing gender dynamics. While female athletic participation is on the upswing in Qatar, overall rates of involvement remain somewhat low.”
“As a Qatari national who has a special interest in sports, I felt that it is my duty to encourage other females to be part of the sports community,” said Maha Al-Ansari, journalism sophomore. “I also felt the need to be part of Qatar’s and my university’s mission, and play an effective role in encouraging women to be physically active , so we decided to start up the university’s first female soccer team.”
Al-Ansari also dedicated her final visual journalism project to producing a short video news-package  on women and sports, because of what she saw as a lack of female participation in the local sports community. The piece explored the challenges facing female athletes in Qatar through members of the Qatari national women’s basketball and taekwondo teams, with insight from a religious scholar as well as Professor Harkness, who shed light on the various taboos associated with female participation in sports.
“The newly-established female soccer team is an example of how NU-Q students can be inspired by and take action on what they learn in the classroom,” said Dr. Everette Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. “We believe that sport is an integral part of a well-rounded education program and adds to the overall well-being of our students. It is also an area of talent we want to encourage and support in our students, both male and female.”
Northwestern University in Qatar recently celebrated a strong boost to its research program when Senior Lecturer in NU-Q’s Communication program Susan Dun’s research won a grant from the Qatar National Research Fund. “Catalysts and constraints: Women's and girls' experience of physical activity and sport in Qatar” is a project that involves 300 women respondents and evaluates the role of the Arab media in women's sport and how role models influence their sport.
According to Al Ansari the establishment of the female soccer team would not have been possible without the support and help of the university, which will help organize a student soccer tournament next semester in Qatar Foundation’s Education City. The universities who currently have female soccer teams are Texas A&M University at Qatar, Virginia Commonwealth University in Qatar and Georgetown University School of Foreign Services in Qatar.
Al-Ansari says she will play to win but that her main focus for the upcoming season is “to get more female students interested and lay the foundation for a soccer program that will to continue grow. We want this to go on even after we graduate.”