“It’s a great honour for me and I’m really proud to be one of the ambassadors of this tournament,” were the words of Yasmeen Khair, after she was chosen as an ambassador for the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup Jordan 2016. This star caught the attention of her compatriots when she was a child, representing Jordan as a gymnast for many years.
What is more, she later went on to represent her country in a very different sport, becoming a member of the Jordanian women’s football team. She now has a dual role: on the one hand promoting the U-17 Women’s World Cup, a unique event for Jordan; and on the other, helping to make women’s football more popular in her home country.
A national mission
Talking to FIFA.com, Yasmeen said that being chosen as an ambassador for the women’s tournament was a great source of pride. “When Jordan was given the honour of hosting the U-17 Women’s World Cup, I was looking for ways to help make the tournament a success. When I was chosen as one of the ambassadors, I was really happy and I started thinking about what I could do before the competition started. I see this as a national mission, just like what I did before. My motivation is the same as it used to be, both on the football field and in the gym hall.”
Yasmeen is famous all over Jordan. As a child she became a star of gymnastics, showing her talents from an early age and nicknamed “The Butterfly”, because of her amazing all-round ability. She showed accuracy in the floor exercises, strength on the uneven bars, speed on the vault, and fitness on the balance beam, taking part in many competitions against opponents who were years older than her. Her hard work and flair resulted in winning medals of different classes, though her goal was always gold.
“When I was a little girl I used to love both gymnastics and football, but at that time I had to choose gymnastics,” she said, looking back at her early childhood. “I developed my talents and started to enter competitions. No one had believed that I would start to take part in tournaments so fast, but my aim was always to win medals and through hard work and persistence I got to where I wanted to be. I took part in lots of competitions and I’m proud to say I won many gold medals in Arab competitions. I still keep them on the walls of my room so they can inspire me every day.”
A new love of football
Yasmeen got into gymnastics at a time when women’s football was relatively unknown in Jordan and was not played officially. However, when she retired from gymnastics at 17, Yasmeen did not hesitate to get back into the beautiful game. “It wasn’t a difficult decision or a strange one, anyone who knows me knows that I’ve loved football ever since I was a child,” she explained.
“I used to kick a ball about with the boys in my family and when I left gymnastics, I saw that it was a good idea to pursue my love of football. The circumstances were right and I joined the first women’s national team as soon as the team’s formation was announced. No one expected that we would get a result on our first competition appearance, but we succeeded in winning the first West Asian championship, and this was our starting point for a bright future.”
Thanks to her speed and strength, the team grew to depend on Yasmeen a great deal. Just like before in gymnastics, she became a well-known performer and helped Jordanian women’s football to compete at continental level. Yasmeen took part in three Asian competitions and, alongside her team-mates, helped drive Jordan to the group stage of the Asian Women’s Cup 2014.
“That was a unique journey. We started with nothing and worked our way upwards with strength and determination,” said Yasmeen. “I think we laid the foundations for women’s football in Jordan. We were the first women’s national team and then a broader base began to take shape. Clubs were set up, local competitions were held, and all the other women’s teams were set up. We now have a more complete system so that we can develop women’s football for the future.”
Jordan is our pitch
Yasmeen and her fellow players in the Jordanian women’s team had a dream, to qualify for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™, though despite their best efforts, they have so far been unable to achieve this goal. By qualifying for the 2014 Asian Cup they came close, but getting the edge over teams with many years of experience, such as Australia, Vietnam and 2011 world champions Japan, proved too big a step. However, Yasmeen and her team-mates benefited a great deal from this experience and have redoubled their efforts to reach the next World Cup in France in 2019.
“To tell you the truth, for many people this experience was seen as a failure,” she said. “And if you just look at the results it might seem that way, but for me and everyone else on the team we did more than merely take part. We played against the Japanese, the then world champions, who later went on to the Final in Canada 2015. We also played with fierce determination against Australia and Vietnam. These teams have lots of experience and we gained a lot by playing against them. We need more time and hard work. In football you need lots of hard work to improve yourself, both individually and as a team. But, if you don’t give up, the future will be good.”
Just like when she is on the pitch, Yasmeen spares no energy in helping to make women players’ voices heard in Jordanian society, as part of her role as an ambassador for the U-17 Women’s World Cup. Speaking with a passion and determination as if she herself had a match the very next day, Khair was keen to send a message to the young girls and women she will soon be meeting at schools and universities.
“I really want to pass on everything I’ve experienced over the past few years to these girls. I know they’ve heard of us before, but most of them don’t know what football’s given to us,” she continued. “As an ambassador for the World Cup, I will go to them and tell them that football isn’t just a game and it’s not only for men. We’ve managed to play football and achieve success. Football can be the place where we fulfil our potential. My message to all girls is ‘Yes you can’. If you love sport and football in particular, don’t let any fear stop you.
“In order to support the tournament and the U-17 women’s national team, we need to go to the stadiums and watch all the matches,” she went on, her enthusiasm contagious. “This will be a great experience, for sure. We should ‘live’ this tournament, let everyone know how much we love football, and show the world that the slogan ‘Jordan is our pitch’ is not just empty words.”
As the conversation concluded, Yasmeen had this to say: “I will never forget the girls on the team who will ‘live’ this unique experience. I would have loved to take part in something like this, so now that they’ve got the opportunity, I wish them the very best of luck. Everyone on the women’s national team is sparing no effort to try and help them. We’ll be with them at all the training camps and matches, right up until the beginning of the tournament.”