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Thursday, 2 May, 2002, 09:54 GMT 10:54 UK
Playing football in a headscarf
Photo by Ahmed Versi of the Muslim News
Malika, centre, and her team-mates at the games
Malika Chandoo may not yet be able to bend it like Beckham, but she has captained the UK football team at the Muslim Women's Games. She tells in our weekly Real Time series why it has strengthened her sense of Britishness.

Although Islam encourages physical fitness, many Asian cultures still have the attitude that a woman's place is in the home.

Malika Chandoo
Malika plays five-a-side football, known as futsol
I coach a girls' football team and we'd once gone to a local park to play because of the lack of facilities at our mosque.

We were set upon - physically attacked - by a group of boys who wanted to show us how football was really played.

But there's a real enthusiasm to get involved; and to be seen to be playing sport makes a real difference to the image of Muslim women.


Playing football for Britain made me feel more a part of the community

In the West, women who wear the hijab [a scarf wrapped tightly around the head to conceal every wisp of hair] can be portrayed in a negative light. There's an assumption that we stay home, that we're chained to the kitchen sink. When I tell people that I work, that I teach and play football, they're often surprised.

Unveiling myths

What I've found growing up in Britain is that if you look different or dress different you tend to sometimes feel ostracised. Playing football for Britain made me feel more a part of the community.

Waving the union flag in Tehran last October
Some of the UK team at the games in Tehran
We were the first non-Muslim country invited to join the games, which were held in Iran. The spectators and participants loved the fact that we were practising Muslims from Britain; they asked us if we wore the veil in England; they cheered for us when we played their teams.

Because the games were on in the midst of the bombing on Afghanistan, the publicity here about our team showed that Muslims do have a face, that we are British.

At the games
Men and the media could only attend the opening ceremonies when the women were covered
We played three games and lost all three - outclassed without a shadow of doubt. I have no worry about saying that because we'd had just six months to put together a team and organise practices.

The girls from Leicester had come down to London twice a week for training; they got their parents to drive them down.

But they couldn't make that sort of commitment once the games had finished, so I don't know when we've next got a match.

Bend it like Beckham
The Sikh heroine of the film Bend it like Beckham
It just goes to show that sport needs to be encouraged at a local level, especially for women from ethnic minorities. And because all-female facilities are rare, if we want to play without our veils, we have to black out the windows and close off the viewing galleries.

As Muslim women going out to Iran from the West, I really thought we had all the opportunities. But when it comes to sport, we've got nothing compared to them.

Bend it like...

Even if you look at Asian men in football, how many players in the premiere league are there?

Malika Chandoo
"If we play without veils, we black out the windows"
Our culture has always been to succeed in business or as a doctor or dentist - who wants to play sport? We need to get over that attitude. In Gurinder Chadha's film, there's a line that's something like, "why should I make aloo gobi when I can bend it like Beckham?'

Can I bend it like Beckham? No. I'm an amateur - I learned to play kicking a football around with my brothers.

My hope is that in four years' time when the UK goes to Iran again, I won't make the team. I'm hoping that we'll have new players better than me by then.


Real Time gives people a chance to tell their own stories in their own words. If you've got something to say, click here.



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See also:

12 Apr 02 | Entertainment
19 Apr 02 | Football
08 Apr 01 | Middle East
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