I’m Nagin Ravand, and I want to bring diversity into the sports world. My mission is changing the perception of the ideal football player. When I was 15 I started a football team of girls with a non-western background in Gellerupparken where I also live, it was such a success that I’ve been awarded for my work.
How did you start playing football?
My friend invited me to come to her football practise and that was my entry to the football world. When I was 15 I moved to Aarhus and started my own team, as there wasn’t a team where I lived. I worked as a volunteer there for five years and we went from 0 to 40 girls playing football. That was an important victory for me.
Why was there a need for a team of Middle-eastern girls?
Too many people get surprised when they are tackled by a girl wearing a scarf and pants on the pitch. Football has a great potential to build bridges between people. But today there are still people who judge each other based on looks. Why can’t I pass as an aggressive winger because I wear my scarf? Before I started wearing it I was perceived as super talented and hungry for victory. Today, in my scarf, I’m a “violent muslim” if I play the same way.
Many people think that the girls on my team have not been allowed to play by their parents. That’s not really an issue. The issue, as I see it, is girls not knowing what they are capable of. On TV you only see female football players with blond hair and short shorts. There aren't any girls wearing a scarf. It’s society’s responsibility to show a broad representation for everyone to feel comfortable engaging in different activities.
Is there still prejudice in football?
I’ve experienced being underestimated many times. Comments like, “Are they wearing a scarf?”. Referees looking at you an extra time, searching for reasons to put you on the bench. When people physically stand out it is easy to blame them.
Does what happens on the pitch translate into society?
I think so. As part of the football team I made a study cafe that a lot of the girls used to get advice. Like, “Nagin, I’m afraid to put my hand up at school”. I started encouraging these girls to yell “pass to me” on the field. Some of those girls came back a month later telling me that now they’d put up their hand. There is nothing more amazing than when my girls tell me about something they’ve improved at.
I tell my girls that they have the right to take their place on the field as well as their place in society. It doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you are contributing. Football consists of 11 different players. You don’t have two similar players in a team, and the same goes for society.
If we want to win at life, we need to have faith that we do so because we are different. It is people who are diverse that constitute a winning team. No one will win with 11 goalkeepers.
What can we do in everyday life to support diversity?
Take a stand! If you see anyone being intolerant, ask them to show respect. We’re often too worried about keeping up a nice atmosphere at the expense of calling out intolerant behavior. But sometimes the kindest thing you can do is to have enough integrity to dive straight into the conflict. A conflict doesn't always mean problems, it also means solutions. It’s easy to flee from difficult conversations, but we need people who are willing to deal with the challenges we are facing in the world, and the only way to figure out how to best respect each other is to start a dialogue.
What does carry kindness mean to you?
- Take someone for what and who they are, and expect the best from others instead of leaning into prejudices.
- What you have to give might not seem like a big deal to you, but it can make a huge difference for others. I’ve realized that when thinking about the journey I’ve been on with football: Something I’ve taken for granted my whole life, like playing football, has made a big difference for the girls who joined my team.
What’s your hope for the future?
I hope that there will be room for everybody on the football field. And the field is a metaphor for the world.
It was a success getting girls to play and now I’m hoping to do the same for women. I just became the leader of the female division at a local football club, and within a month I’ve already managed to get 15 grown women to come and play – which is a lot harder than recruiting girls. So that’s a little success, I’m celebrating these days.