Meet the courageous pioneer getting Muslim women playing netball in Bradford

Student journalism series - Owen Thompson has just finished a Sports Journalism degree at the University of Central Lancashire. Here, he focuses on muslim netball in Bradford.

making a stand: Musarath Soofi takes a picture of the women in her netball programme in Bradford, all facing away from the camera as per their religious beliefs.

A Muslim netball coach has encouraged hundreds of religious women to play the sport through her all-inclusive club.

Based at the Karmand Community Centre in Bradford, Musarath Soofi provides an outlet for her players to enjoy the sport without disrespecting their beliefs.

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With a closed-off sports hall that prohibits male attention and a lenient dress code that includes religious head and dresswear, the club promotes the acceptance of women from all walks of life.

After developing a strong passion for the sport whilst living in Dubai, Soofi was able to play regularly for seven years through a nearby club.

She returned to the UK last year and soon realised that Muslim women in Yorkshire were not being given the same opportunities to participate in netball.

Determined to make a difference within her local community, Soofi formed the club last April with the aim of sharing her passion alongside people of the same faith.

Speaking on her inspiration for the club, she said: “Being in a Muslim community, a lot of us cover our faces or we wear the hijab so we’re quite restricted in where we can play.

“There might be facilities that offer netball, but they have see-through doors and windows where people can look in on these women playing and they’re not very comfortable with that.

“My mission was to find a place where it was completely safe and sealed and these women could just enjoy playing a fun game of netball.”

Approved by England Netball, Soofi is now a Level Two qualified coach, running open weekly sessions on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.

With a core group of regular attendees and a number of new participants each week, her club has received countywide acclaim.

She believes that it represents much more than just sport to her players. “When these women know they’ve got somebody who is also like them, they feel more connected because they respect what background you have come from and appreciate the limitations you have got.

“Families send their wives and daughters to the club knowing that it’s within their beliefs and values, especially with their faces being covered and not being in a male environment.

“They are more than happy to come and play and I think we’ve created a really great community feel for everyone.”

Last year, England’s Vitality Roses were the main driving force behind growing netball’s popularity in the UK when they competed in the 2019 World Cup on home turf in Liverpool. Despite this however, there has yet to be an individual from a Muslim background to represent England in a major professional netball tournament. Although not age specific, Soofi has seen a greater increase in the number of teenage girls joining her club since last summer’s World Cup.

She believes that providing opportunities at grassroots level is key in growing netball’s popularity amongst aspiring young players. “A lot of the girls have a real passion for netball,” she said.

“One of the players who comes here was studying netball for a course at her school, she’s been coming to watch me coach and is aspiring to do the same as me.

“I’m hoping that I’ll be able to coach a lot more youngsters to get into the sport as I’d love to see one play for England one day.

“There’s not as many Muslim players out there as I feel there should be.”

When sessions resume at Karmand Community Centred, Musarath’s sessions are played on Monday from 8.30pm-10pm, Wednesday from 8.45pm-10pm and Saturday from 8pm-9:15pm

Women of all abilities are welcome and each session costs £4 to play.

For further information about the club, email [email protected]

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