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Increasing the focus on minority ethnic women and girls’ sport

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Rimla Akhtar

Chairperson of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation

Rimla Akhtar, Chairperson of the Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation on the challenges and achievements of her organisation.

Sport is and always has been a powerful means of uniting people and overcoming prejudices, particularly those against minority communities. It can come in many forms and not just the traditional ones. Women’s sport has seen a massive development over the years and women and girls across the country are embracing less traditional sports and activities such as dance, basketball and yoga.
The Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation (MWSF) was set up in 2001 with the main aim of providing equal opportunities and access to sport for Muslim women who are severely underrepresented across the board when it comes to sport.
The organisation also forms the British Muslim Women’s Squad for the Women’s Islamic Games which are held in Tehran every four years in an Olympics style tournament. I joined the futsal team in 2001, playing in the Games that year and then had the honour of captaining the team in 2005. When we returned from the Games in 2005, my friend and vice captain Ayesha Abdeen and I became Chair and Vice Chair of the MWSF, respectively. Over the past five years we’ve worked to increase the accessibility of sports facilities and opportunities to play and compete. More recently we’ve focused on sports education through providing coaching and refereeing courses and reaching out to schools to provide their girls with a positive experience of sport.
Rimla Akhtar with Hugh Robertson receiving the Kick It Out Grassroots award on 14 December 2010

Addressing under-representation head on

Through working closely with National Governing Bodies for sports and with other sporting organisations, such as Sporting Equals, we’ve been able to help increase the focus on minority ethnic women and girls’ sport.
The work we do is not just for Muslim women but for all women, girls and men from ethnic minority communities. By realising the unique needs of people from these communities, there are great opportunities to refresh the sporting strategies for participation and to generate success in the long term whilst also bringing energy, creativity and dynamism to the way the strategies are implemented.
With London 2012 just around the corner, this is of even more importance so that an entire nation is inspired and the legacy that was promised is actually delivered. Looking at the ethnicity of the population around the Olympic Park in particular, there is a chance to address the under-representation head on – not just in terms of playing but refereeing, coaching and the administration of each sport as well.
A number of organisations have seen our work and have learnt from it in order to implement similar projects in their areas. The work of the MWSF continues now and (hopefully) into the very long term future – our unique projects are about evolving the current situation and bringing innovation on a continuous basis so that future generations do not need to speak about equal opportunities or a lack of sports provision or facilities that are not suitable. The future, as far as we are concerned, is now.

Rimla Akhtar was recently presented with the Kick it Out Grassroots award. Watch the video below from the event, including an interview with Rimla:

Further information

  • Tackling discrimination in football – Kick It Out, football’s body for equality and inclusion publish their annual report

  • Muslim Women’s Sport Foundation Facebook page

  • Photo of Rimla Akhtar with Sports Minister Hugh Robertson receiving the Kick It Out Grassroots award courtesy of Kick It Out.

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