Born on August 27, 1995, Shabnam Mobarez is the captain of Afghanistan Women’s Football Team and a coach of one of the refugee teams in Denmark. Coming from a war-torn nation, Shabnam is another inspiration for females in Afghanistan.
Under the leadership of Shabnam, Afghanistan Women’s Football Team is currently headed in the right direction with the intent of breaking barriers in all players of the team. Shabnam lives in Denmark and her family left Afghanistan when she was 6-7 years old.
Speaking to Sportswallah in an exclusive interview, Shabnam opens up on her journey, the struggle of Afghan female sportspersons, her idol, threats from Taliban, coping up with monthly cycle and many other interesting stories.
Abhishek Kumar (AK) – Let’s begin with your journey from the start
Shabnam Mobarez (SM) – My journey started back in 2003 when we move to Denmark because of the war in Afghanistan. We move there in late 2002. I moved with my family, my dad was here already. So, I came here and then I started playing street soccer like boys from the block. I just started playing football from there and it developed into playing for the city club in the town that I lived in the Danish City Club. From there, in 2014, I had my first appearance for the Afghan Women’s national team and we went to Pakistan to play the Asian Games. Since then, I have been playing for Afghanistan and in 2016 I got the captaincy.
AK – Around what age did you move to Denmark?
SM – I was born in Afghanistan and around 6-7 year old when we moved to Denmark.
AK – You could have represented Denmark but what made you come back to Afghanistan
SM – Yes, I had that chance and I did play for good clubs at high level and I still play there but I have a special feeling for my country and there are lot of changes that I can make. So that’s why I opted to play for Afghanistan. I do play for clubs in Denmark and I don’t feel like making any sort of change here.
We as Afghanistan Women’s Football team, our main goal is to bring some changes and can make football as a sport that women can go to. In Afghanistan, basically, the society sees football as a sport for men. But I want to change the opinion of the society so that women can play football here.
AK – Please tell something about your field position and what made you become the midfielder of the team?
SM – I actually start my soccer career as a striker, much later when I started playing for the national team I became a midfielder. It was my coach’s decision, she believed that I could hold the whole team together and united as a defensive midfielder.
AK – Coming from Islamic background, did you face any hinderances in pursuing your career in football?
SM – I was actually lucky and privileged to live and grow up in a country that supported my football. Especially, my dad has been always on the sideline when I go for play or training. Everyone in my family supported it. However, I think it is very difficult for an Afghan girl who lives in Afghanistan to live freely of her passion of football. Because it is very hard to get out of the house to go for training as so many people would be saying things to her.
Actually, I experienced that when I went to Afghanistan before our recent training camp in Jordan. I was there for almost three weeks and I wanted to live as a regular Afghan football player who goes for training. I wanted to see these sort of treatment which our other Afghanistan players face. Trust me, it was very sad to see the way people react in Afghanistan towards our female athletes and football players. I have seen all such things myself and it’s very uncomfortable. But I still think that our Afghan players who live in Afghanistan are such champions that despite everything, they go for training and still play, which is amazing to see. They have been doing that for so many years. I did it only for three weeks and I felt like this is a big job to do every day to deal with such sort of hate.
AK – Did you face any death threats from Taliban or any such thing when you came back to Afghanistan as the national player?
SM – Unfortunately, when I was in Afghanistan, the area where I stayed in was very extreme. There were lot of people who were had extremely religious opinion on certain things. So I was invited to a lot interviews but I didn’t go because of safety reasons. I didn’t feel like people are threatening me but there might be someone talking why I am doing this. All in all, I wasn’t threatened by anyone, especially my dad was there with me all the time.
AK – Did you come across any of your teammate receiving death threats?
SM – Being the captain of the team, there is a lot of things you have to do. I am very close to my players and whenever they have some issues, they tell me. Sometimes, they tell me their stories which make me feel really bad and helpless. But we are still trying to bring a change and one day Insha Allah we will be able to bring that change.
AK – How do you keep your players motivated and stay positive despite all such negative things going around?
SM – We try and send a lot of messages. We try to be in touch all the time because we don’t live together. I try to communicate through social media as well with my players and try to keep them motivated and positive. And it’s the training time which brings us together and makes us feel highly motivated and positive. We have played around the world. We have played in Germany, Holland, America, etc. So, social media helps us a lot in staying connected.
AK – Which football player do you idolise?
SM – I idolise Messi. I feel he is a brilliant player. And even though he is so successful, Messi always stays humble. He knows how to manage and organise his team together and step up as a leader when it’s needed.
AK – Have you met him yet?
SM – No, I haven’t. But I came to see a game in Spain in 2013. I saw him play but not in person yet. He was simply a magician.
AK – Being an Afghan, do you and your players face issues regarding the sort of clothes you wear?
SM – We all have a choice whether we want to wear a hijab. I see that’s very difficult for Muslim women to perform in sports because they have to wear in a certain way. But I think religion is a private thing and I think sport is something that has to be associated with religion. It is something which you have to perform in whatever you feel comfortable with. Like if you feel comfortable with wearing short pant, it’s up to you.
In our team, we have certain players who love to wear like a scarf and it’s their choice. But I know it’s some kind of tradition in Afghanistan and religious purpose that we have to do, for example wearing a scarf. We are trying our best as a team in order to bring a scarf which is light and not to make a controversial image of ourselves. Our point is to bring change, even if it comes with wearing hijab. However, I believe, religion is something very private and it’s up to you as a woman and athlete and as a Muslim if you want to wear the scarf while performing the sport or if you don’t want to wear it.
AK – Tell us something about your coach Kelly Lindsey
SM – Our coach Kelly Lindsey from America. She has been training us for three years and she is doing this amazing job. Our ranking in FIFA was 128 and now we are in a place 106. So, we have moved many steps up. This year, we have lot of players are coming up. We have three training camps more. Insha’Allah, we are hoping that our rankings get higher. Since we have a very talented and hardworking coach, she is definitely helping us so much.
I am very grateful to my coach because she is the one who knows things to do in a better way and also the one making us improve because, in one year, we went from 128 place to 106. It’s amazing and huge step for us and we know we are going forward and improving. It might be a small improvement but for our country, it’s a huge achievement.
She coached us in India actually during the South Asian Games 2016 and we started with her in California in late 2015 in a training camp. Last time she coached us during the training camp in Jordan, which was a month ago. She has been developing each and player individually and as a team. It is really amazing to have a coach like that who works so hard behind the scene.
AK – Nowadays, you stay mostly outside Afghanistan. Do you miss living in Afghanistan now or are you used to it now?
SM – Actually, I would love to live in Afghanistan in the future but since I told you before I lived there three weeks before my training camp in Jordan; I think for me it is very good to come back and see what it feels like to live in a country that does not have opportunity that I have in Denmark. Here I can just take my car and go to practice and there you have to go through a lot of difficulties.
For example, it is very hard to go anywhere there without a man and go by yourself for practice. Those are the challenges and difficulties we face in Afghanistan and I am grateful to live in a country like Denmark, which provides me the opportunity but of course I would love to live in my country. For now, it is not a good place for me live because of the security and safety reason. So, I would choose to live in Denmark for now.
AK – Being a female sportswoman, how do you manage to deal with your monthly cycle?
SM – Akshay Kumar’s movie Padman is on that topic right.
We don’t talk about it much because we all know how to deal with it. I would say personally it does not affect my football performance when I have my periods and I haven’t seen any other player having that issue. They know how to deal with it and how to remain unaffected by it. They might tell you about their pain but that is not a big issue to deal with.
AK – So, can you speak Hindi? Who is your favourite Bollywood actor?
SM – Yes, I can speak in Hindi and I watch a lot of Bollywood movies. My favourite actor is Akshay Kumar because his movies have meanings behind it and the topics. Like Padman, we don’t talk about it much but he normalised it. It’s very inspiring to see an actor does that.
AK – How big and important is sports in Afghanistan?
SM – I think sports in Afghanistan are a huge thing. The majority of the Afghans people love watching and supporting spots and we have a lot of talented and hard-working athletes. Afghanistan has been through a long dark period and sport is something which that lightens the day with a ray of hope. Sport is a huge thing in Afghanistan and compared to other countries, we might be behind in a lot of things but keeping the hope alive.