Libya’s Football Association has banned its international women’s team from going to Germany for a major tournament, British newspaper The Guardian reported on Friday.
The FA cited Ramadan as the reason for the ban, but the decision comes in the wake of a wave of criticism of the women’s football team from religious extremists in Libya.
Discover Football, publicized as the biggest gathering of Middle Eastern female footballers since the 2011 Arab Spring, is a tournament funded by the German government.
Libya was set to face teams from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia and Germany, The Guardian reported. The Association had given permission for the women to play, but then changed its mind.
“It is Ramadan,” FA Secretary General Nasser Ahmed told the newspaper. “We are not against women playing football.”
The players are disappointed by the decision.
“Other teams can play [in Berlin], so why not us? If you could see the girls, when they were told, they were all crying,” midfielder Hadhoum al-Alabed told The Guardian.
Women’s football was permitted under the regime of Muammar Qaddafi, but the team kept a lower profile.
Since then, it has attracted criticism and even threats from religious conservatives.
The team trains in secret, constantly switching venues and even using armed guards, according to The Guardian.
Women’s football “is something we cannot have because it does not confirm with sharia law. It invites women to show off and wear clothes that are inappropriate,” said Ansar al-Sharia, the militia linked by some with the killing of the U.S. ambassador in Benghazi last September, the newspaper reported.
Salim Jabar, a popular television preacher in Libya, has called for the end of the women’s football team.
“This team consists of tall, good-looking young girls, and that’s the last thing this country needs,” he said in a sermon.
“For the first day that she [a Libyan woman] signed up for this team, she has sold herself and brought shame on her family,” Jabar added.
The women expected greater progress after the revolution.
Captain Fadwa al-Bahi told The Guardian that she thought the team should be held up as a model of cooperation in a country emerging from years of fighting.
“This team is an example of reconciliation. We have former Qaddafi girls and former rebels, side-by-side,” she said.
Rights groups place the ban within a wider context of the struggle for women’s rights in Libya, The Guardian reported.
This month, only six women won seats in Libya’s Congress, dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s Justice and Constitution Party.
The criticism of the women and the tournament ban come despite the team’s efforts to conform to the FA’s rules.
Team coach Emmad al-Fadeih told The Guardian that the women had already met these regulations.
The women wear head-to-foot blue tracksuits rather than shorts and T-shirts, and most wear the hijab.
Fadeih said the team had also met the FA’s terms that only unmarried women could travel to Germany, and only if their father or guardian gave written permission.
Fearing further criticism, they refused to be photographed for the tournament’s website, The Guardian reported.
“They don’t want their faces displayed,” British-Libyan filmmaker Naziha Arebi told the newspaper. “These women just want to play football.”