Shahrzad Mozafar: Iranian futsal pioneer who defied all odds | futsal


To her parents, it wasn’t a big surprise. When Shahrzad Mozafar was not playing ball with her sisters in their sun-bathed family garden nestled in a barren area of ​​Khuzestan Province, Iran, she was usually indoors, dreaming of the love of her life. Soccer. An avid TV game viewer – “I’ve loved coaching since I was a kid” – on one occasion she fulfilled her fantasies by commenting on an imaginary match, capturing every word of a dramatic monologue on tape.

It was an outlet for a sports-mad girl who turned eight at the height of the 1978-1979 revolution, where new modesty laws made public sporting activity increasingly difficult for millions of people. women.

“When my father listened, he loved it,” Mozafar says, almost four decades later. Her parents kept the tape for years, eagerly passing it on to visitors. Their support fanned the flames of her underground love affair with football – a story that led to a transformative career in futsal that elevates Mozafar as a 21st century role model for women in the Islamic world.

After paving the way for the formation of Iran’s first women’s football team – “being a pioneer of everything that didn’t exist before is not easy” – she led the national futsal team to a second Women’s title of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) in 2018.

The controversy accompanying the first title three years earlier, with her predecessor, Forouzan Soleimani, at the helm, exposed the distance still to be covered on the road to equality for women in Iran. The inspiring captain – Niloufar Ardalan, aka “Lady Goal” – missed the tournament after her husband refused to allow her to travel, insisting she was staying at home to accompany their seven-year-old son on his first day of school. Ardalan’s teammates rallied in his honor, triumphing in the face of adversity as the exceptional Fereshteh Karimi shone in Ardalan’s No.7 jersey.

The Iranian futsal team celebrates after winning the 2018 AFC Women’s Futsal Championship in Bangkok. Photograph: Anusak Laowilas / NurPhoto / Getty Images

Shortly after Mozafar’s team retained the title, punitive economic sanctions imposed by new US President Donald Trump hit Iranian sport hard, sparking an exodus that included moving Mozafar to Kuwait as a coach. -Head of the national women’s futsal team.

In 2019, she was proud to be the only female FIFA and AFC coach instructor, championing the cause of women’s football from the inside out.

His life traces the course of the history of sport in a country synonymous with clashes between faith and culture. And her journey also highlights the specific role of futsal – the FIFA-sanctioned indoor five-a-side game – in the stubborn rise of women’s sport in the wider Muslim world.

For Mozafar, the resistance it symbolizes began early. “Passion was born with me,” she says. “I’ve been looking for a ball my whole life. I remember watching the World Cup in 1982 in Spain. I cried all night when Brazil lost to Italy.

She was not alone. A more collective form of challenge dismantled a huge barrier to women in 1993, just over a decade after the political earthquake toppled the Shah. The game changers were the crazy sports students of Alzahra University in Tehran, the only all-female university in the country. With an increasing number of women attending school in the Islamic republic, female students forced university administrators to allow a groundbreaking unofficial futsal tournament that drew nine other college teams.

It was nothing less than a cultural revolution. Much like Mozafar, many women got ripped from the game as children after the early 1970s brought girls onto the streets to play alongside boys. Alzahra’s students decided that was enough.

In 1997, the powerful physical education organization formed a futsal committee which ultimately sanctioned an official futsal competition at women’s universities involving more than 100 students in 12 teams.

“For the authorities, futsal was an acceptable solution for women,” writes Timothy F Grainey in his book Beyond Bend it Like Beckham: The Global Phenomenon of Women’s Soccer. “They could play in an indoor facility where the men could easily be locked out. In this way, university officials and gamers did not violate Sharia law. “

For Mozafar, it was a lifetime overcoming obstacles in a country where football and futsal were prohibited from the ages of eight to 28.

A street football match takes place in front of Takyeh Amir Chakhmagh in Yazd, Iran in 2007.
A street football match takes place in front of Takyeh Amir Chakhmagh in Yazd, Iran in 2007. Photograph: Neil Harris / Alamy

His experience of Iran’s national street football hobby, gol koochik, which means small goal in Persian, has brought desperation and hope in equal measure. The revolution stopped her from playing, but she didn’t stop gol koochik. “A lot of boys were playing,” she says. “At that time, the big cities of Iran were not too overcrowded. They would make a goal with bricks or stones and sometimes use parked cars as a goal. If the ball went under the car, that was the goal.

“The plastic ball they were playing with was made for kids… it was a toy, actually. So because it was very light, they cut it with a knife to make a slit and then they put another one inside to make it heavier and called it a two-layered ball. They were playing two against two, three against three, four against four, etc. They had a lot of spectators, including me.

Watching was not enough, however. She wanted to play. And once her family moved to Tehran to protect themselves during the height of the war, they found an outlet – and another refuge – in volleyball. After representing the national team for a decade from the age of 18, she quit volleyball once futsal took off – fully aware that at 29 she was too old to start a new one. playful life.

Practice beckoned me. In the early 2000s – “we didn’t have football yet, just futsal” – she dove into tactics as head coach of various clubs while assisting the coach of the new national team. women’s futsal.

At that time, the Iranian men’s team was busy claiming the title of “Kings of Asian Futsal” by winning the inaugural AFC tournament in 1999 – the first of seven consecutive titles.

Futsal is released on Thursday
Futsal is released on Thursday Photography: Yellow images

In 2005, Mozafar was approaching its own crossroads. Khadejeh Sepanji, head of women’s football at the Iranian Football Federation, invited her to lead the new national football team at the West Asian Football Games. “I was 35 years old, I had no football coaching experience and there was no football league,” Mozafar explains. “In other words, we didn’t have football players.”

With just a few weeks to build a squad, she followed her instincts and signed up some futsal players. “They couldn’t even do long, high passes because they had never played on grass before,” she said. But they made it to the Games, finishing second behind hosts Jordan.

“It was the start of the football road in my country,” she said. Over the next five years, she combined club futsal with national football functions before being ordered to choose between the two sports by the federation. It was not a difficult decision.

“Iran was a pioneer of futsal in Asia,” she said, while in football they lagged behind their Asian rivals. “So I decided to focus on futsal and let my dreams come true.”

This is an edited excerpt from Jamie Fahey Futsal’s book, The Story of an Indoor Football Revolution (Melville House UK), which has now been released with a preface by Roberto Martínez.


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