Ailing Jordanian orphan teen is inspiration to others

Sunday 21/08/2016
Jordanian football player Anoud Imad smiles as she gets ready for September’s FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in Jordan. (Photo by Roufan Nahhas)

Amman - The FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup kicks off in September in Jordan with a 17-year-old orphan who found solace in kicking the ball in the spotlight against play­ers from 15 international teams in a tournament that could reshape women’s football in the kingdom.
Anoud Imad, a shy headscarf-wearing girl who called the SOS vil­lage home, found football an escape from life as an orphan. She has in­spired a generation of young players and a coach through her dedication and passion for the sport.
SOS Children’s Villages in Jordan supports vulnerable children and families, especially teens who have lost parental care or are at risk of los­ing it.
“I was brought up in the SOS vil­lage as an orphan and I had this passion to play football since I was a child,” Anoud said. “I remember carrying a torn ball in my hand and trying to hit it with my foot, which led to several falls until I got accus­tomed to falling on the ground. But every time I fell I go back and try again.”
“I used to play with boys until I was 16 when, according to the regu­lations of the SOS, girls who are 16 and above live in houses especially made for girls. I joined the Steps for Soccer Establishment and then Is­tiqlal Club and this made me really happy,” she added.
She was later diagnosed with thalassemia, an inherited blood disorder characterised by abnor­mal formation of haemoglobin. The disease, which causes destruction of red blood cells, appeared to end Anoud’s football dreams.
“I was devastated as if something was choking me,” she said, trying to hold back tears.
The midfielder, who has 12 goals in 20 local matches, did not give up, insisting there is nothing bigger than her dream.
“I insisted and my friends encour­aged me to continue and one day Jordan’s head coach, Robbie John­son, saw me play. His support was unmatched and [he] took me to the hospital and here I am representing my country in the biggest event ever and fulfilling my dream,” she said.
Jordan is in Group A, which in­cludes Spain, Mexico and New Zea­land. Jordan is to play its first group match September 30th against Spain.
“I know we are competing against major teams in the world but we have what they do not and that is passion,” she said.
Johnson, from Britain, said he sees Anoud as an inspiration.
“I could not believe it when I saw her,” he said. “She was full of con­fidence and determination and her story gave me the inspiration the team needed and although it will be a tough competition, I still believe we will do our best.
“Anoud is a special player who stood against challenges we might never know in our life. The team is preparing well for the competition and they know exactly who they are up against but we are doing our part and hope for the best.”
Johnson said: “There is no doubt we will play an exciting match against Spain, which lost the final to Japan in the last edition… The girls have been training hard and com­municating well in the field. It will be a great experience for them,” he said.
Hosting an event such as this re­quires teamwork from everyone in the kingdom, according to Yanal Malkosh, the team media officer. “It is a huge event. We have the best in women’s football play here and we can imagine the impact of the expo­sure the girls will have.
“The team is playing as one fam­ily and in sports this counts. They have been supporting each other for some time now because support is really needed to face the best in the world,” he added.
Regarding Anoud, Malkosh said he believes her story inspired many, especially some who shy away from sports because they wear the hijab.
“Some time ago, FIFA banned girls from wearing hijab and play football but they lifted the ban and this allowed more girls to play foot­ball around the world,” he said.
FIFA banned the hijab in 2007 and extended the safety rule to include neck warmers, which were also judged a threat to cause choking in­juries. Football’s rules also prohibit religious statements on team uni­forms. In 2013, Iran’s women’s team was prevented for safety reasons from playing an Olympics qualify­ing match while wearing Islamic head scarves, which created a con­troversy.
In 2014, FIFA authorised the wear­ing of head covers for religious pur­poses during matches after a two-year test period following a request from the Asian Football Confedera­tion (AFC).
The U-17 women’s football com­petition is getting huge support from the government and Prince Ali bin Hussein, president of the Jordan Football Association, who said on the night of the tournament draw: “This is a dream come true. It has been a long and challenging journey to get here.
“I would like to thank everyone who has supported this challenge. Most of all, I’d like to thank our girls. This tournament will be a milestone for women’s football in the region and the world.”