• Teenagers Farah Zaben and Jeeda Naber represented Jordan at the 2016 FIFA Women’s World Cup. (Charlotte Grieve)Source: Charlotte Grieve
Jordan recently hosted the first FIFA tournament to take place in the Middle East, marking a milestone in the development of women’s sports in the region.
Charlotte Grieve

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour
18 Nov 2016 - 6:27 AM  UPDATED 18 Nov 2016 - 6:25 AM

For two months, a neon sign on a roundabout in downtown Amman has been flashing the same redundant message:

“Zero days to go… Zero days to go.”

It’s a reminder of the excitement that took over Jordan back in September as the country counted down to the launch of the 2016 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

It was the first time a women’s tournament had been held in the region and for Dr Nihad Al-Battikhi, the founder of Jordan’s first women’s football team, this marked a coming of age for football in the Middle East.

“Football is my daughter, and this is my daughter’s wedding,” she says.

“When you started something and now it has reached the world championships, it’s amazing.”

“Football is my daughter, and this is my daughter’s wedding."

At the turn of the century, Dr Al-Battikhi was working as the manager of the Sports Centre at the University of Jordan. During a time of regional instability, she wanted to create a way to keep her students from getting into trouble.

“I wanted to find something for the students that would stop them from turning to drugs, to terrorism,” Dr Al-Battikhi says.

During this time, she faced backlash from both the students’ parents and the community at large.

“It was not easy ­– they did not agree,” she tells SBS Life.

“Some people still think that football is a boy’s game. We wanted to prove them wrong,” says footballer Farah Zaben.

Sixteen years later, thousands of Jordanians filled three stadiums over September and October to watch 16 nations compete in 32 games.

At age 17, Zaben has been playing football for most of her life. The game has taken her around the world, where she’s competed internationally from Germany to Uzbekistan. She now holds the position of right back for Jordan’s national team and knows how important the tournament was for the future of women’s sport.

“It’s a huge event for us to host, not only for Jordan but also for the Middle East, for women, and for the way the world sees Arabs,” Zaben says.  

Afghanistan's women's national football team gets jersey with hijab
The women’s kit features an integrated hijab in a baselayer shirt that enables the country’s female footballers to be play while being covered head to toe.

Made easier by FIFA’s decision to lift the uniform ban on headscarves, the tournament has been hailed as the kingdom’s biggest ever sporting event and is a source of pride for many Jordanians. Having received ongoing support from Prince Ali bin Hussein, the lead up to the Games saw one of the largest investments in infrastructure via an upgrade of the facilities to reach global standards.

Zaben’s eyes fill with excitement as she remembers the moment her team scored a goal for their country.

“Everyone ran onto the field, we started bowing down. Some of us cried – we were all so happy.”

Playing to an audience of over 40,000 Jordanians, mid-fielder Jeeda Naber says she felt numb with anticipation.

“As we approached the stadium and saw everyone waving at us, wearing our T-shirts and holding the Jordanian flag, you can’t quite explain it. There are no words,” Naber recounts.

“It’s the first time that women can actually feel like we’re one step ahead of men."

Although the team didn’t make it to the final round, that memorable goal meant more than just points on the score board; the game broke stereotypes, put women’s sport on the agenda, and gave confidence to young girls throughout the country.

“It was women who got the World Cup, not men. So it’s the first time that women can actually feel like we’re one step ahead of men,” Naber says.

There is a mural in the street of the Sweifieh district dedicated to the Women’s World Cup. Zaben and Naber are proud to be known as the “soccer girls” and are looking forward to finishing their final exams so they can start training for the 2017 Asian Championships.

“It’s now time to learn from our mistakes, believe in ourselves and start progressing,” Naber says. 


The author travelled to Jordan as part of The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour. Read more stories form this series:

The Middle East’s first self-defence gym for women
She Fighter is empowering its students through martial arts, with a mission to end domestic violence in Jordan, and a letter of approval from Barack Obama.
The Arab cooking school keeping a grandmother’s recipes alive
Three sisters have been carrying on the tradition of their grandmother’s Jordanian recipes.
Meet the people restoring Madaba’s magnificent mosaics
Jordan has a rich mosaic making tradition, dating from the Roman and Byzantine periods. There are thousands of sites, posing huge conservation challenges for a small institute charged with the job of training people to protect them.
Desert cultures connect through art
A small gallery in Amman offers locals and tourists a glimpse into contemporary Australian and Jordanian art.
Breaking down cultural barriers through skateboarding
Jordan’s first skate park is building human connections between Jordanian youth and young refugees.

Spotlight on women's sport
Iceland's female footballers just as good but payed 460 times less
While Iceland's remarkable quarter-final run at EURO 2016 was widely publicised as the tournament's feel good story, it has been revealed that their stars pocketed a cool $16.7 million (€11.5 million), a whopping 460 times more than their female counterparts who reached the same stage three years ago.
What women want: Women in football are speaking up for the game
In the last 12 months the visibility of women in football has increased but they want more
Yes, it’s true - lesbians are killing football. But in the best kind of way
When Nigerian Football’s Vice President said lesbians are killing football, we think he may have been misunderstood.

The Foreign Correspondent Study Tour is a joint UTS and Swinburne University project, supported by the Commonwealth through the Council for Australian-Arab Relations, which is part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.