For these women, rugby is a declaration of independence and a source of empowerment. The nature of the sport encourages the players to be a dominating presence. In each game there is much more at stake than winning against the opposing team; the real victory is to claim back self-confidence, personal freedom and a primary role within Islamic society.
The women of the AMAR rugby team train at the Zerktouni Stadium in Marrakech
Youssra Alaoui, 24, AMAR team captain and student, says: “Sport has the power to change women’s lives. By teaching the women teamwork, self-reliance, resilience and confidence, the sport can become one of the great drivers of gender neutrality. Women in sport defy gender stereotypes and social norms; make inspiring role models, and show that men and women are equals.”
AMAR is a rugby team based in Marrakech. The club was founded in September 2015 by Aamr Elyazidi, a sport professor. The club has mini, youth and senior level rugby for both men and women, and a veterans side for older players. The club participates in an annual Royal Moroccan Rugby Federation competition that starts in January and takes place throughout the country. They play four to five tournaments a year and a beach rugby tournament that takes place in Agadir.
Also every year it organises national and international rugby events. In July it organised one of its biggest international events, the Marrakech Rugby Sevens Cup. There are 26 women’s club in Morocco. In addition, the Moroccan national rugby sevens team has participated this year in the Africa women’s sevens tournament in Tunisia.
Once a year the AMAR all-female rugby team plays an exhibition match in traditional dress
Traditional dress is worn to show that a woman can play a tough game like rugby
One of the attractions of the game is that it can accommodate a variety of body types. Alaoui says: “It provides every kind of physique the opportunity to play a role on the field. You can be tall, short, broad-shouldered, curvy, thick-legged, and tiny. It does not matter. Each girl uses her unique strengths to make a significant contribution to the team. Every body type is celebrated and appreciated. There is no such thing as a ‘perfect rugby body’.”
The women train in Zerktouni Stadium twice a week, on Fridays and Saturdays, combining fitness exercises and competitive matches. Their games demand speed, agility, a high level of fitness and clever tactics. The coaching and fitness help against injuries in a contact sport that involves tackling, kicking and sprinting.
Once a year the women hold a match in traditional costumes to demonstrate that their is no contradiction between elegance and toughness. ‘The reason behind the event is to show to the world that an elegant woman can’t be stopped from playing a tough game like rugby,” says Alaouim, “she can’t be underestimated just because she is a woman or because she wears pink dresses. A woman can be both, a rugby player who will grapple an oval ball in a muddy field and an elegant lady who will stand for femininity”
AMAR is now one of 26 women’s rugby clubs in Morocco, a testament to their increasing visibility and popularity. Youssra Alaoui explains: “One of rugby’s attractions is that it enables women to break a traditionally patriarchal stereotype, as well as to benefit physically, mentally and socially at the same time. In other words, all the barriers have fallen and women are daring to play rugby, which was always dominated by men. Times have changed, and it seems that the gap between men and women in sport is getting much smaller.
“Rugby refreshes our body and mind and helps maintain a healthy lifestyle. It enhances self-efficacy and it is an effective communication method to stand against the common stereotypes women face in their daily life. Sport in general and rugby in particular has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire and be inspired. It has the power to unite people. It creates hope where once there was only despair.”