Exclusive: Sarah Essam on Her Unique Role as a Female Arab Athlete

The Egyptian international talks exclusively to Her Football Hub about her responsibility as a role model for fellow Arab females.

At 21-years-old, Sarah Essam is the first Egyptian woman to play competitive football in the UK.

Many are calling for her to be hailed with ‘the same recognition as Mohamed Salah’ after making waves in English football.

Despite Essam’s achievements, nothing could have prepared her for such a sudden end to the 2019/20 season.

“It was such an unexpected circumstance,” the striker told Her Football Hub. “But we are always prepared for unexpected situations as footballers. So for me, I thank my government for bringing me back to Egypt to be around my family.”

Image credit: Egypt Today

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the current season for tiers 3-7 in the English women’s football pyramid have been voided.

“They put me in a 14-day quarantine when I arrived in the country,” Essam said on her return to her home nation. “They had doctors checking on our temperature twice a day and they provided food for us.”

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Like many across the world the 21-year-old had the unprecedented situation of a birthday in lockdown.

“They celebrated my birthday and brought me sports equipment and birthday cake when they learned I’m a Stoke City and Egypt player, which was very appreciated from such a generous team at the hotel,” reflected Essam.

image credit: FIFA.com
Image credit: FIFA.com

“I’m now at home, studying online for my engineering bachelor degree and training twice a day, before breaking the fasting throughout Ramadan, with 30 minutes and then another training in the evening.

“I’m doing my best to stay mentally strong and psychologically ready. I’m trying to imagine there’s an important game soon and I have to be ready for it.”

Training in Lockdown

“It’s very hard to motivate yourself in these circumstances,” Essam said. “But my ambitions are the same with a pandemic or without, so I’m trying to stay positive and physically fit.”

The striker went on to talk about Stoke City’s ongoing communication throughout lockdown. The club has been hosting video calls every week to check in on the players.

“As a team, we did a seven-day challenge called ‘Stoke City Women run 2000 miles’ to raise money for the UHNM,” Essam said. “We are very proud and thank the NHS staff and carers who are working every day to save lives.”

Image credit: Enigma Magazine

As members of the FA Women’s National League North, Stoke City Women saw their season expunged. No results or personal achievements will stand.

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“It was a shock for us of course,” Essam said. “At the same time, our health and the supporters’ health is the priority. I guess it wouldn’t be fair if the men’s Premier League continued after they cancelled other leagues below.

“A virus is a virus. So if it [the season] is cancelled for us, I think it should be cancelled for the whole country too.”

“It is a great responsibility.”

It’s evident Essam will not let this set-back get in the way of her promising career. She is already looking towards the future, domestically and on the international stage.

The 21-year-old said she felt honoured to play for the second oldest club in the world as an Egyptian.

Image credit: TheNational.ae

“To give hope for the next generation of Arab females is a great responsibility and privilege.”

Essam went on to say she has received ‘many offers’ from European clubs as well as scholarships in the USA, but her ambitions lie in English football.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing new challenges in the UK, where I’ve always wanted to play. This hopefully will be achieved by hard work, consistency and perseverance.”

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