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Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire: "Football has no gender"

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Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire

Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire

Former Nigeria international Ayisat Yusuf-Aromire won the FIFPRO Player Voice Award for empowering girls and women through her foundation.

My story is different from other Nigeria internationals. As a girl, I was not allowed to play sport. I was deprived of doing anything related to sport because I came from a Muslim background.

I was passionate about football and I played with boys. But when I returned home, I would be punished – even to the extent of being beaten or not getting food. I continued to play football as it is something that I loved doing.

Things changed when I was chosen for the Nigeria U-20 side that played at the World Cup in Canada. As we were singing the national anthem, I got emotional, and tears started rolling down my cheeks. I just had a flashback moment and thought back to what I went through, and now I was at the World Cup.

That changed my parents’ opinion, and they said I could play football. My entire community were so proud of me, which gave me the biggest joy. It helped break stereotypes and change parental perspectives about girls; they, too, should have the right to play sport.

When I was playing for the Nigerian senior side, I was scouted by a club in Finland. It was my opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless, to be a good role model, to create more awareness that football has no gender.

Football has done amazing things in my life and without it, I wouldn't have been where I've been, and achieved a lot of things I've achieved.

Everyone should have the right to play sports. This is the reason I established my foundation. I really wanted to make an impact on society, be a change-maker and let everyone live a better life.

I retired in 2009 a year after the Beijing Olympics. I was still active at that time, but I just felt there was life after football. I did some coaching courses as I wanted to stay in the sport world. I am now working as a sports instructor for a multinational women's group. I've been here for about 10 years now, and I also coach two clubs in Finland.

My other passion is my foundation: the SheFootball Initiative. When I was playing football, I had no role model. There was no players’ union. That is why I formed the foundation. I believe that when you touch a life, you add value. And when you support someone, you make an impact in their lives.

Most importantly, when you inspire somebody, you make the person realise there is hope. I want young players to realise that in doing what you love, you can be an amazing person: a legend, a role model, an icon. It’s not about me alone, it's about people around me – because I want everyone to feel involved and to believe that sport, and football in particular, has no gender.

The foundation is a way of promoting equality, health and supporting young girls to have the right to play sport. We organise a conference for young footballers every year. I invite ex-internationals, so the players can see role models. I involve lawyers to let players know their rights. There are activists that come to talk about sexual abuse, violence and other important things. I also involve football officials.

We use football as a platform to get the players together, educate them, and also let them understand that football can be a profession. It has been very successful. The first year there were 172 girls, now there are over 400. It is so big that I can’t stop it. It is here to stay.

After the conference we split the girls into different groups. They are given names like Team Nigeria, Team Finland, Team Germany and so on. Then they play a tournament until we have a final. There are also individual awards. I also sponsor two of the girls. One of them is going to a vocational school, learning to become a hairdresser. 

Education is really important – which is why player unions are also important. When I played, there was no union in Nigeria. We had no-one to give you a voice or to support you. But when you join the players’ union, you know your rights. And if something happens, you have people to call, you have your player union to talk to. That gives you the strength and you can concentrate on giving all your best for the team.

Winning this award is a huge thing. It gave me more energy and more hope to be able to push forward. It is a big thing for me as a person and for the girls I'm trying to support, trying to make an impact in their lives. They will see that I am trying to put a smile on their faces and getting credit from the likes of FIFPRO.