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Soccer is no longer a man's game

By Wang Qian | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-14 08:13
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When the four universal questions of life — Who am I? Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where am I going? — pop into my head, I am standing on a small soccer field at Chaoyang Park in Beijing on a chilly night last month.

It is my first time playing the game, which I know nothing about. I am not a soccer fan, and every time I watch a match, I fall asleep within 10 minutes, without exception.

Before I went to The Other Green's salon held by La Otra — a women-themed bookstore in Beijing — last month, playing soccer never would have appeared on my bucket list. I regularly do yoga and I cycle and swim, which, in my eyes, are good exercises for women, while soccer, definitely, is for men.

Soccer is by far the most popular sport in the world. It's estimated to have more than 4 billion fans across the world and 240 million registered players, including 16.6 million females, according to the Women's Football: Member Associations Survey Report 2023 published by FIFA, the world governing body of association soccer.

How can soccer become a feminist topic? What hinders women from participating in the game? Or is it really a game only for men?

Keeping these questions in mind, I step into the salon and meet five members from the Beijing-based WM female soccer club.

They look terrific, with sunny smiles and athletic physiques. And their passion and confidence impress me when they talk about how soccer has changed their lives.

In addition to the physical health benefits, they all mention the empowerment and the sense of sisterhood that soccer brings, which is not that easy to find in other forms of physical activity.

What's more, they all faced societal prejudices about women playing soccer and want to break gender norms. A tough player since primary school, Xiao Da used to be the only girl on the pitch and was excluded from school training because there was no girls' team at her school.

Not only at schools — it was also not easy for women to find a training club to play soccer several years ago in Beijing, as most of them were only open to boys and men. However, things are getting much better now.

Coincidentally, I get an invitation from my colleague, saying that her son's club is offering women's soccer training courses. And that was definitely a yes for me.

Being a working mother for seven years, my life has been limited to the office and home, and when I heard about the physical and mental benefits that it brings, I hoped soccer can make a difference in my tedious life.

This is where the story starts. After an hour of warm-up exercises and practicing kicking a ball around, here comes the match time. Without understanding the fundamental rules of the game, including offside, fouls, throw-ins and corner kicks, there I am, trying to figure out which is my team's goal.

I try to shoot twice, miss both times and I hurt my right thigh for perhaps the following two weeks. I still feel the pain.

But I also feel that, for me, happiness is real on the pitch. Soccer is more than just a game.

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