It was in 2001 when Mariyam “Mayan” Mohamed spotted an ad for a job vacancy at the Football Association of Maldives. She had no idea that applying and getting the position of women’s development officer at FAM would pave the way for decorated career in service of women’s football in Maldives.
Mayan never thought of football as a sport which women cannot play. In her youth she used to bring together a group of girls to play on occasions like the Independence Day that was how it all began for her. She took it a step further when she applied to her first job at the FA.
“AFC was pressuring the member countries to have the position of women’s development officers. That was the job opening they had at FA Maldives, and that was the job I applied for and got.”
A month into her new job, Mayan got an opportunity to attend a women’s coaching development seminar in Malaysia organized by the Asian Football Confederation, which she describes is how her eyes opened into the world of women’s football.
“That was when I realized women’s football can be a thing even Maldives. I realized it was a field I can pursue a career in. So I thought to myself that we’d put together a team and start women’s football in Maldives.”
For Mayan, it was a challenge even from day one. She was working to put together a team of women as the National football team of Maldives.
“It was a challenge even from the beginning, because we were promoting a women’s sport that was practically non-existent.”
Mayan who started her career coaching, and training players eventually decided to be a player herself in 2007 after recovering from a knee injury. With encouragement from her team, she started a career as a football player. She retired in 2012.
Throughout her career as a coach and as a player, Mayan said one of the toughest challenges for her was to bring new girls into the sport. She said it was tough because society did not fully accept football as a women’s sport at the time. Mayan said some talented girls even stopped playing, because of the negative pressure from friends and family.
“People even used to jeer and throw insults at us from outside the pitch. Some days we just had to ignore and carry on with what we were doing.”
Despite the many insults and jeers, many players stayed with Mayan and her team. Mayan derived inspiration from their braveness and carried forward with her work with even greater zeal. Her male counterparts at the Maldives FA and other coaches also encouraged her to go forward. In time, the introduction of women’s football competitions gathered attention to women’s football in Maldives.
As a result, the public’s perception of women’s football started to gradually change. Later on the introduction of futsal and the participation of women in it brought women’s football closer to normalization in Maldives, according to Mayan.
She believes that the biggest issue now for women’s football in Maldives is the lack of continuity of competitions. She believes continuity can be brought into women’s football by introducing leagues.
“The most important thing now is to start leagues in atolls. The clubs in the atolls could be pressured to have women’s teams as well. And the leagues could be carried out regularly. The matches can be played in the weekends”
Furthermore she believes that there needs to be a long term plan to develop women’s football in Maldives at a grass-root level. She believes if little girls are taught that football is indeed a women’s sport, in the future they will have no issue in pursuing a career in football.
“Kids can be trained into footballers only from an early age. The problem we had back in the day was, the girls we brought into the team were girls who were playing other sports. Even though we teach them football there are some things we cannot change about them such as running techniques, speed and generally the physical body.”
Having served women’s football in Maldives for nearly two decades, Mayan is now aiming to take her work to the next level. She has decided to run for the AFC female representative seat in the FIFA council. In the election where AFC countries will vote, her biggest opponent is Mahfuza Akhtar Kiron a Bangladeshi football administrator. Akhtar has held the seat since 2017.
“If I get the seat it would open doors for me to help bring aid to Maldives in relation to football. I am someone who worked when I have had nothing.”
Mayan has her sights set on marketing women’s football further in the Asian region if she is elected. Competitions such as the FIFA Women’s World Cup are not usually broadcasted in most Asian countries and she aims to bring a change to that through the system.
“Nearly half of the world’s population is in the countries which are in AFC. So it’s a shame that women’s football is not being broadcasted in this region. That is something I will be focusing on.”
She also has set a target to bring equal opportunities to women in football. If she is elected she plans to visit all AFC countries to observe the state of women’s football in each country.
“I expect each country to have a person who wants to pursue women’s football like I did. I want to find those people and find out what challenges they face and help them.”
Despite the challenges she faced and still faces, Mayan has a positive outlook. She believes she can overcome. She believes the future of women’s football in Maldives and in the whole Asian region is bright.