Jordan kicks off U17 Women's football World Cup

Jordan kicks off U17 Women's football World Cup
Society: The beautiful game has come to the Middle East, with Jordan hosting the world's biggest football tournament for women aged under 17.
5 min read
01 October, 2016
It is the largest sporting event ever hosted by Jordan [Getty]

Robbie Johnson probably won't be sitting in the dugout at Amman International Stadium on October 21, when the referee's whistle will start the final game of the most significant sporting event ever to take place in Jordan. 

But Johnson's part, and that of his players, will far outlast what happens during the tournament, which kicked off on Friday.

As Head Coach of the Jordan Women's Under-17 national side, he knows his team's spell in the competition might be a short one.

"The fact that this competition, the first of its kind to take place in the Middle East, is being held in Jordan is a great source of pride for people here," the highly experienced British coach told FIFA. "I've been able to see that up close."

The first FIFA women's football tournament in the Middle East brings with it the opportunity for all involved to create a meaningful legacy that endures long after the final whistle: a legacy not solely of increased female participation on the pitch, but of more women involved in the governance of the sport itself. 

It has certainly been an encouraging development that 75 percent of the Local Organising Committee staff are women.

The LOC itself is headed by Samar Nassar, who is something of a trailblazer in female sport in the Middle East; she represented Jordan in swimming in the 2004 Olympic Games, having competed for Palestine in 2000, and was Chef de Mission for Jordan's 2012 Olympic team. 

Women in Amman's World Cup:
Jordan's squad have a tough challenge ahead [Getty]

Nassar understands the cultural power of athletes from personal experience.

"When young girls are on the pitch here, they are not just kicking the ball for themselves or their countries, but for all the girls out there - for women's empowerment and for promoting gender equality."

National interest in the competition has been bolstered by Queen Rania of Jordan visiting the squad at a recent training session, and by the selection of Yasmeen Khair as a FIFA ambassador for the competition. Khair was already renowned throughout Jordan as an international gymnast before making the switch to football.  

"As an ambassador for the World Cup, I will go to them and tell them that football isn't just a game and it's not only for men," says Khair.

"Football can be the place where we fulfil our potential.  My message to all girls is 'Yes you can'. If you love sport and football in particular, don't let any fear stop you."

Khair's fearlessness is admirable; Robbie Johnson has been around the game long enough to know the scale of the task facing his squad of 21 players; having managed Liverpool Ladies, alongside a number of academy sides in the north-west of England, he is proven at nurturing young talent. 

Yet it will certainly be a tough task for the host nation, featuring in their first-ever FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup; here in Group A they will need luck on their side if they are to see off the likes of Mexico and New Zealand if they are to reach the knockout stages. 

The last team in their group are the Spanish, eying a second consecutive appearance in the final, and the chance to avenge their 2-0 defeat to Japan in the 2014 tournament in Costa Rica. 

Jordan's final tournament warm-up game was against Brazil last Thursday; a crushing 7-0 loss. Brazil themselves face a tricky Group C, alongside England, Nigeria, and 2008 winners North Korea.

But Friday's first game of the competition saw a 6-0 defeat to Spain.

The strength of Spain's team was
too great for Jordan to match [Getty]

The Jordan team will have take heart in a less devastating recent 1-0 defeat to Venezuela, put in to perspective by their status as a nation of 6.5 million people, only 720 of whom (according to FIFA's most-recent analysis) are women playing football. 

A successful World Cup, followed up by continued support for the game at a regional level, will surely see this number grow.

A little over a month after 50,000 fans visited Rio's Maracanã to watch Germany secure the gold medal in women's football at the Olympic Games, the Amman International Stadium will host the showpiece matches of this competition.

In stark contrast to the Maracanã, one of football’s most well-known venues, the 25,000-capacity stadium in Jordan's capital is perhaps best known internationally for having hosted the 2007 Asian Athletics Championships. And there have been some concerns over preparations for the competition in a country where the women's national team only played their first international match in 2005. 

However, this is Jordan's first experience of any competition at this level, and it is a stepping stone to their hosting of the 2018 AFC Women's Asian Cup.

The fifth edition of the FIFA Under-17 Women's World Cup is set to be a fascinating one; with three of the previous four champions being from the Asian Football Confederation it will be interesting to see whether that domination can be challenged from elsewhere in 2016. 

For Robbie Johnson, though, his primary concern is to make sure that his Jordanian players make the most of their opportunity, telling them to "be proud of the badge on your jersey and be proud to represent your country."  

"Play with your heart and use your head. Make the most of these unforgettable moments."

And what of the legacy of the competition?  For Yasmeen Khair it's about demonstrating the potential of Jordanian women.

"We should 'live' this tournament," she said. "Let everyone know how much we love football, and show the world that the slogan 'Jordan is our pitch' is not just empty words."

Olly Hogben is a sports commentator, presenter and writer. Follow him on Twitter: @bennettcomms