Morocco’s Nouhaila Benzina first to compete in hijab at Women’s World Cup

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Nouhaila Benzina, a defender for Morocco’s women’s national team, made history during their second Women’s World Cup match against South Korea by becoming the first player to wear a hijab in a senior-level global tournament. This momentous occasion marks a significant advancement in inclusivity and representation in the sport.

The use of religious head coverings in FIFA-sanctioned games was initially banned for “health and safety reasons.” However, after persistent advocacy from activists, athletes, and government and soccer officials, the ban was overturned in 2014. This decision was a crucial step towards promoting diversity and allowing women of different religious backgrounds to fully participate in the game.

The significance of Benzina’s achievement goes beyond the field. Assmaah Helal, a co-founder of the Muslim Women in Sports Network, believes that her groundbreaking act will inspire not only players but also decision-makers, coaches, and individuals involved in other sports. Benzina’s courage and determination will encourage more Muslim girls and women to pursue their athletic dreams.

Benzina is an experienced professional player for the Association’s Sports of Forces Armed Royal, the dominant team in Morocco’s top women’s league, where they have won the championship eight times. While she did not participate in Morocco’s opening match, a disappointing 6-0 loss to Germany in Melbourne, she eagerly awaited her opportunity to showcase her talent in the Group H game against South Korea in Adelaide, which came after a six-day pause.

Finally getting her chance to play, Benzina made a significant impact on the match. The Atlas Lionesses displayed a newfound freedom in their gameplay and secured a 1-0 victory over South Korea, with a goal scored in the 6th minute. Benzina played a crucial role in the defensive line and even received a yellow card during the closing stages of the game as she worked to neutralize South Korea’s counter-attacks. Her involvement and performance demonstrated her skill and contribution to the team’s success.

Moreover, Morocco’s qualification for the Women’s World Cup was a historic achievement in itself. As the first Arab or North African nation to participate in the prestigious tournament, the Moroccan team embraced the responsibility of representing their country with pride. The journey to the World Cup was a testament to the accomplishments and progress made by the Moroccan women’s team.

In conclusion, Nouhaila Benzina’s decision to wear a hijab while competing at the Women’s World Cup symbolizes the breaking down of barriers and the promotion of diversity and equality in sports. Her inspiration extends beyond the realm of soccer, impacting decision-makers and empowering Muslim girls and women in all sports. Morocco’s involvement in the tournament is a significant milestone, showcasing the determination and progress of Arab and North African women in the world of soccer.

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