Shaikha Dwa Al Khalifa is a youth icon of Bahrain who inspires young girls and women of this beautiful island nation and beyond, with her work and panache. She is member of the first national women’s football team of Bahrain (the first of its kind in the entire Gulf Cooperation Council – GCC region). She has been a part of Bahrain’s Women Football Team’s first ever historic international win against Maldives. An alumnus of London School of Economics and University of Arts London, Sh. Dwa is also a remarkable researcher and an academic. She dons many hats and is also a creative entrepreneur. As a part of Women’s Football Committee at the Bahrain Football Association, Sh. Dwa dedicates a lot of time in inspiring young girls to pursue this high-octane sport, generally stereotyped as a man’s sport.
JOURNEY TO BECOMING PART OF THE FIRST WOMEN’S FOOTBALL TEAM OF BAHRAIN
The Bahrain women’s national football team was first formed in 2003 led by Shaikha Hussa bint Khalid Al-Khalifa who is also my sister. She approached the association still in her school uniform asking them to have an official team. This was unheard of in the region.
They were hesitant at first and asked if it was okay to play in stadiums and how we would be accepted culturally and whether we were serious. The team represents Bahrain in international women’s football and thus falls under the governance of the Bahrain Football Association; more specifically run by the women’s committee at the Association. Although participating in several friendly tournaments, the team played its first official international match against the Maldives on April 22, 2007 and entered the FIFA Women’s World Rankings in June 2007 at 111th out of 142.
The challenges we face in our initial years were mostly formalizing our team from a group of girls who enjoyed playing the game to try to professionalize and elevate our level to compete in the for the regions and represent Bahrain in a good light.
Also in the beginning a few parents were hesitant in terms of letting the girls play football, will it be excepted culturally or not, they were unsure and also a lot of the girls were young so how will the balance their schoolwork and their commitment to the team etc.
FIRST NATIONAL WOMEN FOOTBALL TEAM IN GCC REGION AND HISTORIC INTERNATIONAL WIN
Yes prior to this it was unheard of to have a women’s national football team for in the GCC further on in the region Jordan we’re just starting their program expanding even further Egypt had developments in women’s football however as an official FIFA registered national team there was an absence of such a model for us to follow so it was very much unchartered territory.
The Bahrain Women’s National Team is the first National Women’s Football Team to be formed in the GCC region. This was a big step for the island nation and it is just a part of Bahrain’s dedication towards promoting women’s sports. In 2004, Bahrain participated in a Futsal tournament in Amman, Jordan and the next year participated in the West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship 2005 held also in the Jordanian capital, though none of the matches were FIFA officiated. The team placed 4th in this tournament. In February 2006, Bahrain participated in the first ever Arabian Women’s Tournament held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The team was better prepared this time and brought home the 1st-place trophy as well as the Fair Play trophy.After this achievement, the sport became even more popular in the country and more girls have expressed their interest to join clubs.
In an effort to improve the national team further, the committee put in a request to FIFA for a licensed female coach to lead the team. As a result, German coach Monika Staab was sent to Bahrain January 21, 2007 for a six-month development program. Under the guidance of Staab, the team played its first official FIFA approved match on April 22, 2007 against the national team of Maldives in Malé, Maldives. During this match, Bahrain put up a great match and managed to secure a historic 7–0 win.
The team went on to participate the Arabian Women’s Football Championship in Bahrain in 2010, as well as West Asian Tournaments in 2012, 2014, 2017, 2019. As well as participating in the Asian Cup and Olympic Qualifiers in 2018 and 2017 respectively and the Asian Cup Futsal Championship in Thailand in 2018. In 2019 the team won the GCC Championships in Kuwait beating neighboring countries. I have participated in all these tournaments in a midfielder role, captaining the team on several occasions as well as overseeing the development of youth teams that represent Bahrain at an under 14 and under 17 level. The only time I did not participate was during the time when I was studying abroad to complete my master’s degree as well as other certifications.
THE LONDON CONNECTION
Alongside my athletic career I made sure to pursue my education this is a matter that has been encouraged by my family and also within myself I have a passion for academia and I decided to go abroad to further my education and chose London due to the high calibre of universities there. I studied social in public communication at the London School of Economics (LSE) and that was quite an enlightening experience I enjoyed the academic discussions and developing a thesis exploring the make-up of the Bahraini society and our norms. My studies at the University of the Arts London covered visual arts which is also a passion and is more towards the creative side. Studying abroad I believe teaches you a lot of the aspects that I have already gained through my football career which is discipline, commitment, and following through with setting aims, as well as pursuing them despite challenges. I also joined up with a local football club side there called Actonians Ladies Football club they play in the English leagues and that was also an experience getting exposed to a different style of football and a different team atmosphere as well.
WEARING THE ENTREPRENEUR’S HAT
On the topic of different hats yes I do have a variety of interests and I started my entrepreneurial journey after graduating from my bachelor’s degree I launched a shop called Dual with my sister that provided Bahraini made products and printed art works on contemporary wear such as jackets and hoodies as well as mugs so they would be like a souvenir for the tourists and an item of pride for the locals as well. After 10 successful years we have decided to move on from that venture and I am now proud to announce that I opened an art gallery recently that runs arts and crafts classes for adults and children and serves the local community in the creative sense, my sister went on to open her own successful gym and I took on another path of opening the gallery. However, the invaluable lessons we learned from her first venture has set us up nicely for our future entrepreneurial journeys.
Yes, I as I have mentioned I guess I was ahead of this question that I have recently opened an art gallery called Artly that connects local artists where they can provide classes for the community with a minimal charge in order to foster creativity and just as an outlet for craft making painting drawing in the field is quite open.
PROMOTING FOOTBALL AS A SPORT TO YOUNG GIRLS OF BAHRAIN
Being part of Women’s Football Committee at the Bahrain Football Association is truly an honor and I will try my best to provide opportunities for girls to play football within the kingdom alongside of course my fellow committee members under the umbrella of the football Association we are fully supportive.
My vision is to see the girls excelling locally regionally and internationally I also envision the continued improvement of the current women’s football league as well as a league for the younger ages currently we only have a full senior league I plan to promote the sports through increase in accessibility making fields available for girls, academies, and clubs where they can play the sports and the pathway towards the national team and the elite level.
MESSAGE FROM A YOUTH ICON
Thank you very much for your kind words I am truly humbled. I believe my message would be to pursue your passion, to preserver and it’s might sound clichéd but nothing Is truly Impossible or not in your reach! You do need hard work, you also need to keep on pursuing your passion, overcoming hurdles, but it’s worth it and you need to tap in to put the belief that you can do it and that’s when you will achieve your goals step by step.
Author: The feature was authored by Dr. Debashish Sengupta, Asia Editor at Future of Earth.