Nadia Nadim on Dreaming Big and Why Football Is More Than Just a Game
This professional footballer is changing the world on and off the pitch.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has come to an end, as the USA beat the Netherlands to victory in Lyon, France just a few days ago. Although the tournament has drawn to a close, the focus on women’s football continues thanks to the incredible performances seen on the pitch and the activism off of it. In fact, Nike teamed up with Adwoa Aboah’s initiative, Gurls Talk, to give a platform to young women breaking boundaries in the male-dominated sport across the globe with a short documentary, Spit Fire, Dream Higher. Pro-footballer Nadia Nadim joined the conversation with Aboah as they travelled to the girls’ hometowns to see the positive impact soccer is having on their lives.
Nadim’s own story is just as inspiring. A refugee from Afghanistan, she fled her home country for Denmark with her mother and sisters after her father was killed when she was just 10 years old. She spent her time playing football in a refugee camp, finding it a good way for herself and other children to integrate into the local community without being able to speak the language. Over two decades later, Nadim has gone on to be a professional player, signing with the likes of Manchester City, Portland Thorns and Paris Saint-German, as well as representing Denmark on an international level. Alongside this, the striker is a qualified surgeon and uses her personal experiences to fight for the equality and rights of girls worldwide; she was even elected UNESCO Champion for Girls’ and Women’s Education last week.
We caught up with the soccer superstar just prior to the Women’s World Cup final to talk about the progression of the women’s game and how football has the power to change society – read on for more and watch Spit Fire, Dream Higher above.
The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup has placed a larger spotlight on the women’s game than ever before – why do you think that’s the case?
I think that’s the natural progress of the game so far. As the game is evolving, as the people are getting access to the game, they see the beauty of the game, the power of the game and it’s natural that media is interested more, investors are interested more. I think it’s just the next step of the game that it’s reached this level. I feel next time that we’re sitting here, it’s going to be even more.
Apart from the obvious financial investment, what other issues have you personally seen that you feel are preventing women’s football from progressing as fast as it should?
I think one thing is access to the game. Right now, we’re talking about equal pay, equal respect, but that’s countries like the U.S., France, England. We forget countries where girls don’t even have access to football, you have to have girls compete at this level to get the players that you need and to improve the competition. I think that’s one of the things that we tend to forget. There are countries that like, forget football, sports are not a thing girls do, and that’s a shame on so many levels. It makes me sad.
“Football’s not only a game. It’s a tool to teach girls about their values, teach them about what they’re capable of, give them confidence but also the feeling that they’re worth something.”
This ties in with the Gurls Talk documentary you were involved in. This project really places the lens on girls playing football in more remote areas. Why did you feel it was such an important story to tell?
It’s because football’s not only a game. It’s a tool to teach girls about their values, teach them about what they’re capable of, give them confidence but also the feeling that they’re worth something. It can help them to learn time management, discipline – that’s going to be used in their school life. It’s a tool that you can use to change society, it’s a tool that you can use for integrating refugee populations that are in Europe or anywhere else. It has so many aspects to it than just you play chasing a ball and having fun.
Alongside being a pro footballer, you’re a trained surgeon – what skills do you feel you’ve developed that transfer across both of those careers?
One thing that I’ve learned is being able to handle pressure. I love the pressure, I kind of live for that pressure. If it’s before taking a penalty kick in the EURO finals or it’s in the operation room and you’re trying to save someone’s life I think that the small act is there and you have to maintain and hold your concentration and the focus of what’s important right now. I think that’s something I can see in both. Another thing is the rush I get from scoring a goal or being in the operation room is really similar. I feel they go really well hand-in-hand and I feel they compensate each other and make me into this complete person that I feel I am within.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given that you still refer back to now?
I got this advice later in life, I wish I had gotten it earlier. Someone told me “Be you on the field,” because when I was younger they told me not to do things this way, I was told to change what I was doing, somehow it wasn’t good enough. But she was the first person, she was an American assistant coach in Denmark and she told me “Nadia, I’m going to say this behind the coach’s back because he doesn’t agree with me but you do you. Because you made this happen and because you’ve been loyal to yourself, your own identity without anyone saying this to you, you’ve reached this level. Don’t change.” I always say this, you have to believe in yourself and when you dream, always dream big. Because one day, it might happen and it will be shitty if you had a little dream. You’d be like “Ah man, I should have dreamed bigger!”