Manama: For Saudi sports fan Mai Abdul Wahab, there is no ceiling to her ambitions, even when they seem unusual.
“I want to be the first accredited woman football coach in Saudi Arabia,” Mai says without the slightest hesitation.
And she argues her case with confidence.
“Sports are a legitimate right for all women and what we want now is an official recognition of this right in active participation in sports activities and games,” she says, quoted by local Arabic daily Al Sharq.
“Saudi women can do wonders and accomplish outstanding achievements if they are simply given the opportunity that is provided for men.”
If young women are not given the chance to play football or any other form of sports, they will have “plenty of free time” and they will spend it either at shopping malls or sitting idly in “passive places like coffee shops, she says.
Mai started playing football when she was young.
“I initially played with the Jeddah Jaguars in 2008 and our team came third in an international tournament,” she says. “I later joined the Jeddah Gunners and I gradually became the team captain. Unfortunately, I had to quit after I suffered an injury and my left foot needed a cast. I was later contacted by the Gunners, a sports club, to train young boys and girls aged between 11 and 14 and I accepted the offer.”
However, Mai does not have a licence to train.
“I do not have one because I never took part in training sessions, but that is part of my plans. I am now able to coach thanks to the years I spent playing and watching football matches. I am thinking of joining a training programme in Jordan because I really want to be the first accredited Saudi woman coach. I really feel that women should be given the opportunity to have a more active role in the hugely popular world of football,” she says.
Mai says that she at times plays football while training.
“It is not like before, of course, but I also need to keep in shape so that I can coach. I now coach three days a week for two hours every time.”
The ambitious small club coach says that she is elated with the interest shown by young men and women in training with her.
“I am pleased with their presence and I am happy to see their numbers swell up during summer when there is the long school break. My rapport with them is not just football. They go beyond that to include instilling in them the values of team work, cooperation, patience, moral practices and honest competition.”
The training sessions and the matches are so well appreciated that those who are asked to sit on the bench on the D-Day become upset, she says.
“There is a lot of enthusiasm and excitement among the young men and women during the sessions and matches. In fact, often times players who are asked to rest or to sit on the bench when we have a match, complain to their mothers,” she says.
Mai is aware that coaching is not a full-time job and she plans to set up her own football club or academy.
“I do need the licence and I am working hard to get it so that it opens up new horizons for me. The other day, I received a great offer, but I could not accept it because they insisted on the accredited licence,” she says.
Another ambition for the 25-year-old coach is to see a Saudi girls’ team in international competitions, preferably the Olympic Games.
“My dream is to see one of the young players I am now coaching take part in the Olympics,” she says. “I am confident that Saudi women can really achieve a lot for their country and for themselves. But they do need to be encouraged. Right now, we do not have enough sports clubs for women and the ones that exist are a bit expensive, which hinders the development of sports for women. It is not fair to have us for instance pay 600 Saudi riyals (Dh588) to use a football field for a two-hour practice,” she says.
A good start will be to promote sports in girls’ schools, she says.
“Physical education should be treated like other subjects at schools and should be promoted to help girls discover and nurture their athletic abilities and talent,” she says. “Our young girls and women do deserve moral and material support.”