Football fandom stirs debate on Muslim women’s freedom

Several female football fans watch Algeria’s World Cup second round game against Germany from a giant screen set on a square in Algiers. AP photo

Women’s passion for football in predominantly Muslim countries is not only for the passion of the beautiful game, but is also fueled by the fact that it fulfils a need to release energy and in a conservative society that severely restricts their freedom Women’s passion for football is not simply a love of the beautiful game. It fulfils a need to release pent-up energy and imitate others and endangers their role in a conservative Muslim society that severely restricts women’s freedom, including the right to play football.

That is Saudi psychiatrist Imad al-Dowsari’s analysis of heightened football passions among Saudi women during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Saudis, including many women, avidly discuss matches, teams’ strategies and referees’ decisions on social media even though their national team did not make it to the Brazil finals.

The fact that Saudi Arabia is not represented is, however, less of a problem for Saudi women, Dr. al-Dowsari suggests. He estimates 60 percent of Saudi women support a team because of its elegance and good-looking players.

Dr. al-Dowsari noted large numbers of predominantly young Saudi women, decked out in abayas, the all-covering cloak they are obliged to wear, designed in the colors and logo of their preferred team, under which they sport T-shirts with the same colors and matching nail polish, congregate in coffee shops to watch World Cup.

“It is not a psychological condition, but a kind of imitating people around them in highly emotional situations. It is also an outlet for women to release their pent-up energy,” Dr. al-Dowsari told the Saudi-owned, pan-Arab al-Hayat newspaper, noting women had fewer opportunities to release...

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