The slick freestyle football moves of a Malaysian Muslim girl have boosted her into the spotlight in a country where the sport is dominated by men.
Sporting a headscarf, Qhouirunnisa’ Endang Wahyudi executed deft moves, juggling the ball before balancing it on her soles and later on her forehead.
“The headscarf is not an obstacle,” the 18-year-old student told AFP at a park in Klang, a city about 40 kilometres southwest of the capital Kuala Lumpur.
“It’s normal. It’s just how you handle it.”
In freestyle football, players use all parts of their body to perform often acrobatic tricks with the ball.
More than 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 32 million people are Muslims. Many Muslim women in the country don the traditional hijab and loose-fitting clothing in line with Islamic requirements of modesty.
Islam does not stop women from playing sports, Qhouirunnisa’ said. The teenager started freestyle football in 2016, training and learning tricks by watching videos on YouTube.
“With freestyle, you can be free as long as you don’t show (your body),” Qhouirunnisa’ said, adding that she has the full support of her family.
Football is one of the most popular sports in Malaysia, despite the national men’s team being ranked a dismal 171st in the world. Fans across the country often watch matches live on TV well past midnight, cheering foreign teams in competitions like the World Cup.
“Freestyle in Malaysia is mostly (practised by) men,” Qhouirunnisa’ said, but added that girls in the country were becoming more interested in it.
She trains four to five days a week, balancing, kicking and juggling the ball for up to three hours in every session.
Her freestyle tricks have a growing online audience: her Instagram account has more than 72,000 followers.
Qhouirunnisa’ hopes to one day meet her idol, teenage French freestyle star Lisa Zimouche.
“Being a woman is not an obstacle,” she said. “You can be active in sports.” – AFP