The impact of women’s football on cultural diplomacy

Fan Yuqiu of China against Bahrain.
Fan Yuqiu of China vies for the ball during the AFC U16 women's football match against Bahrain in Nanjing, China on 26 September 2013. (Photo by Xinhua/Li Mangmang)

The influence of women’s football goes far beyond the pitch. Football’s influence over cultural diplomacy is prominent and visible in the professional women’s game.

In 2003, Bahrain unveiled their national women’s football team and therefore used this to signal their leadership in formalising women’s football in the Arabian Gulf (Al Khalifa and Farello, 2020).

Efforts from organisations similar to Huracan Foundation to create partnerships in Nepal, attempt to use football as a tool to build strong female future leaders and role models. Goal Click‘s piece titled ‘Football on top of the world‘ goes further into the unparalleled impact that the sport has had on young girls. For instance, Asmita Ale, daughter of a former Gurkha soldier, is the first female of Nepali origin to be a signed professional female footballer, highlighting anyone is welcome to play the game.

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Increasing diversity within women’s football disintegrates cultural barriers through the promotion of common team values. Progress is being made, albeit slowly, as women’s football is becoming prominent in the Gulf despite limited support and financial investment. All of which limit the pace of progress and standards of performance (Al Khalifa and Farello, 2020).

Bahrain’s Supreme Council for Women expressed that paving the way is not easy. In some parts of the world, for women to play football is “… a position of constant conflict – between the very traditional influences in the country and more liberal ideas about women’s involvement.” (Al-Haider, 2004)

Mollie and Rosie Kmita have worked hard to inspire the next generation of Asian female athletes. It is the skillset of a player that is crucial rather than gender, nationality or background. Arguably, women’s football can be used as an indicator of progress around issues surrounding women’s wider cultural standing and development (Al Khalifa and Farello, 2020). Therefore, this highlights football as a universal tool that can bring people of all cultures together.

A modern approach to women’s football

The modern world of social media strategies plays a huge role in legitimising women’s football, in perceived conservative cultural settings. For example, this has worked well in the Gulf through international audiences (Al Khalifa and Farello, 2020).

Further, women’s football in Kuwait identified their commercial sponsors as critical success factors for their local leagues. Thus, highlighting the responsibility for support from all industry stakeholders involved with a team.

Secretary General, Hassan Al Thawadi’s vision for FIFA World 2022 has debatably increased opportunities for women’s football in the Gulf. While there may be a long way to go, there is a sense of motivation to play, albeit on their own terms. Football allows for the promotion of multi-cultural efforts to positively shift perceptions and shape beliefs. Hence promoting the unparalleled elements of equality, fitness and teamwork.

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The combination of sports and social media coverage allows a modern outlet to tell timeless stories. Such stories will not just inspire the next generation of girls; they will be a means to address uncomfortable and unspoken barriers through the avenue of football. Women’s football is a tool to exercise progressive steps toward influencing the evolution of cultural diplomacy.

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