Photo: Team in blue shirts: Girl`s team from Naryn during Female Leage in Bishkek; Team in white shirts: pupils of the youth team of Naryn football department during friendly matches; Gulbara Osmonovna, Kyrgyz National Female team’s coach. Crediit: Bagymdat Atabaeva | IDN-INPS - Photo: 2019

Female Football A Gender Equalizer in Kyrgyzstan

By Bagymdat Atabaeva

BISHKEK (IDN) – In this predominantly Islamic country, one may expect to see women playing a subordinate role to men in many spheres of life. But, women in Kyrgyzstan are breaking this stereotype image and football is shaping up as a great gender equalizer.

“I have been coaching girls for over 40 years now. I started when I was 23 and at the time there was a very sensitive lack of financial support.

“We used to starve. People would always speak critically about my job. I often felt like quitting, but I knew about the passion and the potential girls have, so I just couldn’t leave them alone,” said Gulbara Osmonovna, Kyrgyz National Female team’s coach, speaking to IDN during a game of the Kyrgyz Female League recently.

Having coached over 2000 girls through her coaching career, Osmonovna highlighted that girls were the main motivation for her to keep going. Nowadays, dozens of Kyrgyz female football players are studying abroad in professional football academies.

Sport is considered non-feminine in Kyrgyz society, especially those like wrestling, football, and even chess. Despite that, Kyrgyz women have made great strides internationally. One of the great examples is a well-known mixed martial artist and a current UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) champion Valentina Shevchenko.

She became champion at UFC 231 beating Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who Shevchenko also previously beat three times in amateur Muay Thai bouts. She is widely considered as one of the best female fighters in the world. In the start of her career, because of the lack of financial support she had to migrate out of the country. Later she was given a Peruvian citizenship. However, she decided to represent Kyrgyzstan at the world level.

Another good example could be freestyle wrestler Aisuluu Tynybekova, who
is an Olympic medalist. Despite constant criticism towards her choice in sports, Aisuluu became the first woman to wrestle for Kyrgyzstan in Olympic Sports.  In 2017, she received a gold medal in the Asian championship that was held in New Delhi, India. Later, the same year she received bronze medal at the World Championship in Paris, France by defeating Ningning Rong (China), in 58 kg wrestling.

Lately, football has also started to shed its “non-feminine” sport image all over the world. Just recently 8th Female World Cup was held in France televised to millions across the world. There are 2 professional female football clubs, a professional football academy and a separate female football League in Kyrgyzstan.

Though Kyrgyzstan was a part of the Soviet Union that aggressively popularized gender equality, it did not bite that hard here. Even today, one can observe stereotypical male bias in many spheres of life, that is passed off as traditions, history, and interpretation of some religious elements. In a small country like Kyrgyzstan where society`s opinion influence government policy, it`s hard to go against norms and standards accepted by majority. 

Osmonovna is determined to change these attitudes. “The feeling that I can help girls to change their lives and achieve their dreams is precious” she says. Only about 5% of girls attend football academy in Osh and other girls attend extracurricular football courses offered by the Football Federation of Kyrgyz Republic (FFKR).

Female don’t usually get to choose their career. It is common in both regions and cities of the country. However, to equalize the amount of girls and boys attending football training programs all over the country, local football federation has been popularizing football through its social media pages, by organizing contests like “Miss Football”, and offering free football trainings all over the country.

From 2016 to 2018 there was a massive plan realized by the government of Kyrgyz Republic in cooperation with Football Federation to provide cities and about 70% of all villages with mini-football fields. This was done to popularize the game and promote healthy youth.

It is about breaking stereotypes and informing locals that there is a potential among Kyrgyz girls. One proof of that could be a street football team consisting of girls from socially vulnerable layers who won silver medals at the world championship in Glasgow (Scotland). In addition, Natalya Gaivoronskaya was recognized as the best goalkeeper of the tournament. This team had no professional playing background, no long-term coaching, and not much financial support.

Football is about health, passion, friendship, decision making, critical thinking, building a strong fighting character. But, the potential to make a living from the sport could also be a motivational factor.

Toktobolotova Baktygul and Aydana Otorbaeva are the two popular female football players who have been accepted and playing in the Kazakh and Spanish professional football clubs. In January 2019 Aydana Otorbaeva successfully launched her football training school in Bishkek. One of the features of the school is that there are no any sex divisions in both younger and elder groups.

Football also requires referees alongside with the players. “There are three female international FIFA referees in Kyrgyzstan, that`s not a lot but they are already attending International Cups and working abroad which is a good sign of development,” says Osmonovna. To become internationally certified referees girls had to go through the School of Football arbitrary, video testing, and physical examinations.

When asked how different girls are from boys on the football field, Osmonovna answered: “For girls, everything has to be done more than to boys. They have to work more, run more, and play more. Boys usually come prepared, you give them a ball – they start playing. However, girls require more energy, more coaching, more attention, and more time.”

Kyrgyz female football league is being finalized. It contained 3 age categories and about 30 teams from all over Kyrgyzstan. “We train separately from boys` team, but often play with them after training. I have a lot of male friends who play football and do not consider it manly. We just play and divide into teams despite the sex”, said young talented forward Jasmin from Naryn`s Under 14 years old team, which finished in the top 3 in the junior league, despite being formed only 1 year ago. “However, some boys still ignore us, girls, do not pass the ball and act ignorant (she says).”

“There are a lot of girls whose parents rather want them to dance, sing, or study than play football. So, these girls try to prove their passion for football through winning games and showing their achievements to their parents,” says Jasmin.

The overall level of Kyrgyz football has been developing successfully.  Even though Kyrgyzstan does not appear in FIFA’s female rankings in 2019, they did rank 85 in 2009. In 2016 the women’s team of Kyrgyzstan beat the national teams of 12 countries and took second place at the World Championship of Street Football. Nowadays, the women’s national team of Kyrgyzstan (under 19 years old) took second place in the qualifying tournament at the Asian Football Championship 2019.

It is passionate and ambitious girls like Jasmin, Aydana, and Baktygul under the coaching of Osmonovna, that is breaking stereotypes and nurturing an open-minded generation acting against gender abuse and fairness.

“Girls who reach us have passion, which is often stronger than boys` in academies, for example. Football is about passion, so I believe that we have a big potential to realize,” says Umotalieva.

* The writer is a media studies student at the University of Central Asia who is doing a summer internship with IDN-INPS as the correspondent for Kyrgyzstan. [IDN-InDepthNews – 15 September 2018]

Photo: Team in blue shirts: Girl`s team from Naryn during Female Leage in Bishkek; Team in white shirts: pupils of the youth team of Naryn football department during friendly matches; Gulbara Osmonovna, Kyrgyz National Female team’s coach. Crediit: Bagymdat Atabaeva | IDN-INPS

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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