Vote with your feet

When I began blogging about soccer activism I had a sense of my own story and soccer’s place in it, and I knew about the big projects: Right to Play, Girls in the Game, and so forth. Then I began to learn about smaller projects like The Positive Ladies Soccer Club, the Street Child World Cup, and The Justin Campaign’s Football v Homophobia Initiative. For a while I was doing some straight-up reporting, just trying to get the word out about all the amazing things happening on and around the pitches of the world.

Now, slowly, I’m emerging from under the pile of W’s (who, what, where, when and why). The connections between these international events are beginning to reveal themselves in different, more personal and political, ways. Yesterday I read a story, “The Women’s Game in Africa: ‘Zanzibar Soccer Queens’ and Other Tales,” by Andrew Guest, a contributing writer at Pitch Invasion, which introduced me to yet another soccer documentary, Zanzibar Soccer Queens (trailer embedded on this page, and well worth the watch).

In some ways the story is familiar: a marginalized group is using soccer to improve their lives. In the Zanzibar Soccer Queens, the central conflict is around women’s place in a Muslim society. Consider the following quotes taken from the trailer:

“The problem with women wearing shorts and exposing their bodies is that when men are watching they can be tempted.”
– Abdallah Mzee, Koran School Teacher

“When playing football you can say anything, but when praying you have to say what you have been told by God.”
– Warda, Midfield

“I stopped playing football after I got married. My husband doesn’t want me to play.
– Amina, Former Defender

And finally, the statement that rang the bell, dropped the penny, and shifted the lens:

“My marriage failed because my husband was complaining that I couldn’t have a child. He then stopped providing for me and that’s when the conflict started and the result was that he divorced me.”
– Zuwena, Goalkeeper

Where had I heard this before? And then it hit me:

“So now if she starts playing soccer… she can not have my babies. ”
– Man, The Positive Ladies Soccer Club

Community, unity, confidence, fitness – yes, playing soccer provides these things. But now I also know this: playing soccer is an achievement, a statement. The simple act of playing soccer can be a raised fist, a vote. In Zimbabwe, women are voting to be healthy and strong and fly in the face of the stigma around HIV and AIDS (The Positive Ladies Soccer Club). In Durban, kids are voting to play to raise awareness of child poverty and homelessness (Street Kids World Cup). In the U.K. and the U.S. and internationally, LGBT players are voting to take their place in the world of sports, from the recreational pitches to the premier leagues (Football v Homophobia). And in Zanzibar, women are voting to show their bodies and use their bodies for the sheer pleasure of playing the game, for their goals, for themselves (Zanzibar Soccer Queens).

Game on, people. Game on.

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