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Assmaah Helal

Sport for Development Manager, Australia

Assmaah Helal combines her passion for sport and education to strengthen the capacity of young people so they lead positive change in their communities. She is Program Operations Manager at Creating Chances and Football United, using sport to promote social change in culturally diverse communities for over 10 years. She campaigned to overturn an international ban on the hijab by female soccer players and is a recent World Record Holder, playing a FIFA Regulated football match, to promote gender equality in sport, at the lowest point on earth, at the Dead Sea in Jordan, with the Equal Playing Field Initiative.

 

What is your favourite sport? Football (soccer)
What drives you? 3 core values inspired by my faith:

– Striving for excellence: this drives me to work hard, be disciplined, to be a creative problem solver, and to produce quality work
– Integrity: to ensure best practice and honesty in all my dealings with people and organisations I come across; to speak my truth in situations I may feel uncomfortable
– Serving others: to develop projects, mentor others, share my experiences and share resources for the greater good.  As quoted by Muhammad Ali: “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth”

What was your defining moment to get to where you are now? When FIFA issued a ban on the hijab for professional footballers in 2007, I was concerned that it would prevent women from playing the sport on a global scale.  I knew I had to get involved.  I was one part of a global campaign that was driven by incredible people like HRH Prince Ali of Jordan and Moya Dodd here in Australia.  I had an important role to play as a woman who wore the hijab in a western context to show that it wasn’t just a culturally Middle Eastern practice but that it was a global concern, and a core part of a Muslim woman’s identity.  I believed it was a campaign beyond me and it was for future generations that come after me.  I made a big effort to make sure that my voice was heard.  In early March 2014 the ban was permanently lifted.
What is your first sporting memory? Playing football in the park with my cousins during our social gatherings, and Eid days – boys, girls, young and old.
Who is your inspirational woman in sport? So many women out there who have an impact on me in so many ways.  A common thread throughout the ones I admire and respect are ones who ooze humility, who are confident about who they are, who stand up to their truth.  All the women on this list and more.
Why is sport important? When you are a member of a team and you work hard, show up to training, lead and communicate effectively, no one cares about how you look, or how you dress.   Football takes me to another world.  It really brings out this other level of confidence and communication.  As a centre back I must lead from the back and have a very controlling and assertive voice.  I feel that that quality enables me to really be a good leader in the work that I do to communicate effectively with my team members.  On the field you make so many decisions.  In football, you don’t have much time to think and you just do and if you make a mistake you’ve got to just come back from that mistake as soon as possible.  You can’t put your head down and walk away.  And that’s something I’ve applied to my life.