UAE squad: (Front row) Dani Richards and Ashley Hall. Back: Lisa Handy, Rajvi, Kirsty Darlington, Deena Shipwright, Nadine Schtakleff and a fan. Image Credit: Supplied

ABU DHABI: Being adept at defending, attacking or scoring goals is not good enough to make it to the players’ list of this football match. You have to be a good trekker too as the match will be played on one of the highest mountain peaks in the world – Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa.

As many as seven female players from the UAE will be part of the action as Australia-based NGO Equal Playing Field (EPF) gears up to set the Guinness World Record for the highest elevation football game in history. EPF uses sport to educate communities about gender equality.

High altitude game

The Altitude Football Project match which will be played next week will feature 34 players including international female professionals and competitive enthusiasts from 20 countries.

Training the UAE team for this event is Kirsty Darlington, business development manager and girls football coordinator of Regional Sports, Abu Dhabi

“Regional Sports aims to be a part of this initiative by spreading the word to kids in Abu Dhabi as well as hosting our own football clinic. We want to encourage as many girls to play football and enjoy the great benefits of team sports. No girl should miss out on those benefits because of her gender,” said Darlington. She learnt about the match and reasons behind it through her meeting with EPF co-founder Laura Youngson who was in the UAE recently.

“I told her I’d be interested to go and help in any way I could. Sometime later I got a kit list and we were spreading the word throughout our football communities,” said Darlington.

Youngson, on her part, said the match aims to highlight the gender inequalities faced by women in sport. “Women have fewer opportunities to play sport, get paid less when they do, and don’t get the same coverage or respect in the media. I don’t want to be having this same discussion with my future children,” she said.

No mountain high enough

There are no preliminary matches or finals; just one friendly match between 34 players. The players start the ascent to Mt Kilimanjaro on June 18, playing friendly matches along the way. Once they reach the crater at just below the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, they will lay down temporary pitch markings and kick off. A full 90 minutes of football at such altitude has never been attempted and there is a danger of altitude sickness.

Knowing it won’t be an easy game, the UAE players have been training hard in the past few weeks. The training sessions include outdoor walks through wadis and mountains including Jebel Jais and Jebel Hafeet.

“We’ve been doing strength and conditioning fitness training as well as underwater swim. We use altitude training masks to help with the low oxygen levels near the summit. It’s been hard jugglng between jobs and other commitments, but it has been worthwhile,” said Darlington

Team member Ashley Hall, from Thailand, said: “Women face many mountains every day just to play the game they love – whether at grassroots level or elite. We want to challenge those stereotypes. By setting the world record we will show that we can – and will overcome those mountains.”

Rajvi Ladha from Tanzania, another player from the UAE squad, said: “The problem is as simple and powerful as our love of the game. We are taking at aim at the systematic inequalities girls and women face that limit their opportunities, acceptance and value as athletes and individuals.”

The writer is an Abu Dhabi-based freelancer