International goalkeeper Zeina hopes to inspire Arab women into a career in sport through her studies at DMU


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Goalkeeper Zeina Hamarsha hit sporting heights few others reach in their career when she was picked to represent the Jordanian women’s national football team.

But there was no getting away from the fact that playing in goal in the Arab country invited comments about whether it was the right thing for a woman to do.

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Zeina’s decision to join the FIFA Master course at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) this term may still bring her career choice into question back in her homeland, but Zeina is determined to be a role model and inspiration for other women to follow her career path.

Zeina said: “If you tell people in my country you are studying sport some will ask ‘why?’ and ‘what are you doing that for?’. There is still a feeling that sports is a man’s world.

“But I say ‘who are you to tell me that?’. The disappointing thing is some of those comments come from women. But it is the culture we are all brought up in.

“I think taking this career path can be inspiring for other women. I am the first Jordanian student in the FIFA Master and I think I can help open doors for other women in the Arab world.

“We can face a lot of restrictions and barriers when pursuing the things we love. I just want to show others that no matter what your race or cultural background or religion, if you are determined, you can achieve anything.

“Our football association general secretary Samar Nassar once said ‘impossible is just an opinion’.”

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At the age of three, Zeina found herself playing street football as a goalkeeper. “I was quite shy and did not want to interact as much with people and when that happens in football they put you in goal!” she says.

Zeina’s love of football came from her cousins and her parents and continued when she moved to Kettering in Northamptonshire at the age of three. While there she would love kicking a ball around with her sister in any green space around her.

It turned out to be a blessing. After returning to Jordan at the age of 10, Zeina thrived to the point that six years later she was picked for the national squad. Unfortunately playing sport in Jordan does not bring the promises of wealth and stardom that it does in the UK.

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Zeina concentrated on her studies and qualified as a civil engineer, but she did not want to lose her connections with football.

She took up the role of Competition Officer for the Under 17’s Women’s World Cup which was hosted by Jordan in 2016 and two years later Zeina was appointed as a Venue Manager for the Asian Football Confederation Women’s Cup in 2018, hosted again by Jordan.

Meeting so many people from FIFA led to an alumni Irina Baranova suggesting Zeina join the FIFA Master course. The Asian Football Confederation recognised Zeina’s talents and are sponsoring her place.

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Zeina said: “I come from a scientific background, as an engineer, so I was not used to writing essays. I deal with numbers and problem solving. But the more you read, the more you know and the more you know the more you question, which inspires you to keep on learning.

“It is so rewarding to have an opinion on something and what I am doing now at DMU can inspire future research.

“Studying the humanities in sport and the social impact of sport is fascinating. I am an Arab Muslim with Palestinian roots and all of this culture is addressed in sport and I am so glad these issues are spoken about.”

The course has also opened Zeina’s eyes to the world of cricket.

“I had obviously heard of cricket before but I never knew it had such a big following. I was shocked to learn that cricket is not an Olympic sport. I am definitely going to look into cricket further.”

Zeina’s inspiration is the USA women’s national football team, who are three times World Cup winners and her hero is their star striker Megan Rapinoe.

“I went to the Women’s World Cup semi-final in France to see the USA team beat England 2-1. Rapinoe wasn’t playing because she was injured [with a hamstring injury] which was disappointing but they were so inspiring to watch.”

During her time in France, Zeina participated in setting a Guinness World Record with Equal Playing Field where she succeeded in setting the record of ‘The most players in a five-a-side soccer exhibition match is 822’.

“It was one of the toughest experiences I’ve ever had because our shift had to play from 2am until 8am non-stop after I had just arrived from a long six hours delayed trip from Jordan but my passion and the motivation I get from playing football is the thing that kept me going and determined to achieve this record.”

“In the men’s game I support Bayern Munich because of their goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, of course. The best goalkeeper in the world.”

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But what does Zeina miss while spending the winter months in Leicester?

“If there is one thing I miss it is the sun,” Zeina laughs. “I never thought I would be buying Vitamin D pills as a supplement. It is always sunny in Jordan.

“But at the same time I am exploring the climate, the way people live and everyone on the FIFA Master course is sharing bits of their own culture, which is fantastic. We are eating a lot of home-cooked meals from around the world.”

The FIFA Master International MA in Management, Law and Humanities, co-ordinated by the Centre International d’Etude du Sport (CIES) in Switzerland, sees students spend three months each at DMU, the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan and the Université de Neuchâtel in Switzerland.

At DMU, the course is taught by the team at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture (ICSHC), where students learn the history of sports and discuss topical issues and challenges facing the sports industry.

The course was this year named the best of its kind in Europe for an incredible eighth time.

Posted on Monday 16th November 2020

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