Annie Zaidi - Women's Sport Week

What is your proudest achievement?

Coaching with a Premier League club at a professional level. I hope it shows that when it comes to Asian female coaches there is no glass ceiling. I've been lucky enough to coach for so many different clubs across country. It's been a real adventure.

Where did you start?

I've always had a different mentality, being from a Pakistani background. I've had to overcome many problems from being stereotyped to being ill with eczema. But I've always had a real passion for football. It helps me to escape from the usual demands of life and has helped me through difficult moments in life.

How do you tackle prayer and coaching?

I coach during Ramadan as I am committed to my role. I believe prayer is a very private matter and I do it at home behind closed doors.

What barriers to participation did you face?

I coached some boisterous lads in Newcastle who viewed me as an Asian Muslim woman with a strange accent. It was a difficult time but my moto is “If you get knocked down, you get back up.” Eventually I changed their mind-sets and the guys began to actually protect and stand up for me if new recruits gave me a hard time.

After 12 weeks I realised that coaching football was more than just a game – it was a tool for breaking down barriers and creating community cohesion. It changed the outlook of the guys and improved their perceptions of Asian Women and women with headscarves.

What advice would you give to next generation?

When coaching I didn't accept other people's perceptions, limitations or barriers. If people have a problem with you being Asian, female or Muslim then it's up to them to remove those barriers.

I'm a member of the Black & Asian Coaches Association. My mentors there were Wallace Hermit and Dr Colin King. They taught me to successfully coach you do need the right character, a zest for life and be able to 'give as good as you get'.

Have you suffered discrimination?

I approached an organisation to complete my FA level one but was rejected because I was Asian and they felt it would cause more issues amongst parents and players than recruiting a white British women.

Due to the effects of 9/11 and 7/7 there is a general negative perception and apprehension among many clubs who would rather not take any risks because that would court drama with their stakeholders.

What are the next steps in your career?

I have not put a limit on what I can achieve. I will continue to strive to gain experience and knowledge. Over the next 2-3 years, my targets are to achieve my UEFA B license and remain with Leicester until I can get into the England set-up.

Sport England will be launching their THIS GIRL CAN campaign about increasing female participation. How do you tackle the common barriers facing women?

Working on UEFA B women's course I know many of the women are better coaches than men but due to their sex they are often dismissed. We can coach boys just as well, if not better than our male colleagues. Unfortunately football is still very much a male dominated sport and women do not have the status they deserve.

More recently I was really encouraged to see a large audience when the England women played Germany. That was a refreshing change. The women's game in England is built on strong foundations. Unlike the men our talent is sourced nationally rather than relying on foreign players.

What is the best solution to get more women into sport?

We need to get rid of paper shufflers and bid writers, no disrespect to anyone. There are too many people writing rules behind a desk and working on health and safety.

Many non-sporting staff do not understand the needs or culture of sport so it is hard for them to make a positive difference. Getting more grassroots women involved and them gaining experience is the best way to increase participation.

Governing bodies are still facing challenges in understanding the Muslim culture such as the Hijab. There is a culture of ignorance and we need to combat it with education.

Are there any positive examples of getting girls into sport?

Sporting Equals has successfully engaged girls through its Mela events. I've given talks at conferences and seen strong responses from young girls. They resonate with my background and the challenges I have overcome. I would like to visit more schools in the future and hope my story will encourage others. 

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