Headscarf? No problem for playing football in Russia

Soccer “is my medicine”, that is how Bakhu Magomedova refers to her life passion, soccer. Her traditional headscarf and soccer boots make for an unusual combination, but that doesn’t stop her from being the most lively character on the pitch. Born and raised in Dagestan’s capital city Makhachkala, Magomedova caused her parents continuous headaches by insisting on playing soccer with boys in school and in the neighbourhood. For a conservative family in one of the most conservative areas of Russia, such a interest is nearly unheard of.

It was a delight to both Magomedova and her parents when they discovered that an amateur women’s team formed in the city. Elmira Ibragimova, soccer fanatic from the nearby town of Kaspiysk, came to Makhachkala in search of women interested in practising the sport. With local club Anzhi Makhachkala’s impressive infrastructure, Elmira decided that a women’s soccer team in Dagestan was long overdue.

Even though there are no clear rules or traditions barring women from sports, in Dagestan as in other conservative societies, gathering enough people for one soccer team can be a challenge. With social pressure pushing women to more traditional roles and pastimes, not many think it’s worth withstanding the jeering and whistling from male soccer players, raised eyebrows of passersby, and silent disapproval from their families. Ibragimova believes this struggle infuses their game with passion – whereas men are free to play soccer whenever they please, a Dagestani woman must have put up with a lot before ever stepping on the pitch.

Magomedova was among the first and remains the most eager to attend training sessions.