As visibly Muslim football fans, watching a game in public was not an easy decision for Amna Abdullatif from Manchester, Huda Jawad from London, and Shaista Aziz from Oxford.
Facing a plethora of challenges interacting with many football fans, the three hijabi Muslim women have now launched a campaign to reclaim the sport back from racists.
“I wore a hijab to the football game and I remember one particular away game – one of the players in the opposing team really took offence to the fact I was there, he was really aggressively looking at me in a way I felt unsafe,” Amna told My London.
“I didn’t understand it then, but after doing all this work I’ve realized how much of an impact it has on me.”
Their group, ‘The Three Hijabis’, went viral for the first time after one tweet during the Euro 2020 quarter final game between England and Ukraine, as they sat in a bar to watch the match.
“It was by accident, the three of us connected after Covid and we met up in London, I was coming for a short break, Huda was already living there, and it just happened to be that the quarter final of the England game was on,”.
“Shaista was adamant to watch it somewhere, but games are usually on in pubs and bars – and as visibly Muslim women we struggled a bit, but the hotel I was at had a bar area so we decided to book a table, eat there and catch the game.”
In the last few weeks incidents of racism in sports have further come to light since former cricketer, Azeem Rafiq, spoke out about his horrifying experience at Yorkshire County Cricket Club.
The incident reminded her of experiences she faced and said racism is not limited to cricket, it’s in all workplaces and across sports.
“I know I’ve left numerous jobs and Shaista and Huda due to Islamophobia, this is about workplaces in general and the way we get treated in these spaces,” Amna said.
“Racism is not just about football or cricket it’s a societal issue, we need to broaden it out to beyond sports.
“For me, I’ve always had difficulty within job market, going through application after application not getting into interview round, seeing by the looks on some peoples’ faces I won’t get job, often they don’t want to shift their work culture and that’s what diversity means.
“I left jobs due to lack of progression, issues of Islamophobia not being addressed, if you ask any person of color in this country the issues at work – it’s not always the case to leave a job for some people, often complaints processes are not equipped to deal with it.
“Azeem Rafiq is a clear example about how the person making the complaint ends up being the most harmed, most ostracized, it’s the sad reality.”
Racism has been a stain on the soul of soccer for generations, but a series of high-profile incidents in recent years has prompted calls for tougher action from football’s governing bodies.
In 2018, Muslim football star Mesut Özil resigned from the country’s national team after facing racist abuse.
Samir Nasri, while he was playing for Manchester City and the France national team, also expressed concerns over growing Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments in France in 2016.