A 33-year-old woman from Bahrain broke gender barriers by becoming the first female coach for a men’s basketball team in Bahrain.
Fatima Reyadh has overcome prejudices to become the assistant coach of the Al Najma basketball club in Manama — and she does not plan to stop there.
Fatima, who is also a taekwondo black belt, aims to become head coach of the basketball team one day and then bring home the national championship. “When I began my career, there wasn’t the same level of acceptance as there is today,” she says during a training session with her 7-year-old daughter in tow.
“The presence of women in sport was seen as bizarre, especially in basketball, which was considered the preserve of men,” says Reyadh, sporting black leggings and a baggy grey T-shirt.
“There were concerns at first, but through hard work and dedication I’ve shown that doubts about my ability to lead the squad were unfounded.”
Today, she thinks of herself like “just any other basketball coach ― I believe in myself”. Several countries in the region are promoting women more in the workforce, the arts and sports.
Reyadh inherited a passion for the game from her mother, who coached a women’s basketball squad. She began by training a team of young girls, then young boys, before being recruited by Al Najma.
Choosing her was “a bold and at the same time quite frightening choice”, says the club’s technical director, Raouf Habil.
“Communication was a bit difficult at first with the players, but in time it got a lot easier,” he tells AFP.
Official figures show that women, who make up 32 per cent of Bahrain’s economically active population, held 54 per cent of civil service posts between 2010 and 2019. Of the government’s 24 ministers, four are women, although none holds a key portfolio.
Hussein Shaker, one of Al Najma’s players, is unwavering in his support for the team’s female coach.
“The talented Fatima Reyadh is an example of a successful Bahraini woman,” he said. He expects “more examples” of women working with male teams in his country, stressing that “I’m all for women in sport”.