Uzbekistan international Makhliyo Sarikova plays for PFC Sevinch. The striker recently opened a girls' football academy in Karshi, Uzbekistan to create more opportunities for women’s players in her country.
By Makhliyo Sarikova
I love football. It is my passion. When I played in the UEFA Champions League several years ago, it made me realise I needed to make women’s football in Uzbekistan even more popular and try to increase the number of players here. I dreamed about young girls having the opportunity to shine on the biggest stage.
When you play professionally, you notice that girls don’t have the same conditions and opportunities that boys have. Women’s football faces a lot of problems in my country; the main issue is the lack of infrastructure. Only three clubs have good training facilities and can afford to pay decent salaries.
There are a lot of reasons why women’s football is not a priority in Uzbekistan, one of which is our culture. Most people are Muslims who live by their religion’s rules. Girls and women typically sit at home and take care of the family above anything else. Girls also marry at a young age, around 18 or 19. And if they play sports, then it’s gymnastics or ballet. That's why there is no real rush to invest in women’s football.
I played in Kazakhstan and the United Arab Emirates. I was lucky. It’s different for young girls who are just starting to play. If they are not lucky enough, they will stay in Uzbekistan where women’s football is not taken seriously.
I used to speak about these problems, but it never changed anything. That was the main reason for me setting up an academy. At the beginning of this year, I discussed my idea with the head of our football association. During the last two years, they have been paying more attention to the development of women’s football, but that alone isn’t enough to achieve all goals. We need a collective effort. After meeting with the association, I presented the idea to my club. Together, we concluded that we had to open the academy.
I am from Tashkent, our capital. Karshi is in the south of our country, almost 500 kilometres away. My connection with this region has increased over the last 10 years while playing at PFC Sevinch. Thanks to the management of the club, I have all these opportunities. They were open to establishing the academy and were helpful. The club sees the positive changes that we can achieve.
We started selecting young girls from seven up until 13. We try to offer them all the opportunities to become professional players. They go to a school which is located nearby, and we offer a daily training schedule. We have coaches for each age category.
The players can also live in the academy, where we can facilitate up to 80. Currently we have 20 players, but we are still organising selection rounds. We also provide the players with healthy nutrition. Many of them are from poor families, from a region that is not well developed, and where food is not always well-arranged or healthy.
I don't have a specific role within the academy. I have simply been busy bringing this initiative to life. The club is funding the academy and, even though I don’t have a huge salary, I have been saving part of my wage to dedicate it to the academy.
It would be great to see a professional footballer come from my academy one day; that would be something big. And the next step would be to see someone from the academy playing in Europe; to see them at the highest level, like other professional women’s footballers we see in Europe.
The ultimate goal, though, is to make other regions aspire to be like our academy and push them towards opening academies in their regions. Hopefully soon every region in every city in Uzbekistan will be able to help players develop.
But this is about more than just a football academy for girls: this region has the lowest percentage of women participating in our country’s labour market. The academy offers job opportunities for women; for women who want to remain in the game. It also shows all women in our region that they can do so much more than just sit at home.
In our series #CommunityChampion, we highlight a professional footballer’s activities that help impact the lives of other people. Discover more HERE.