Zest for women’s soccer grows in Middle East despite conservative opposition
BETHLEHEM — The Y.E.C. is growing, and the women’s soccer club is growing with its new owners.
The new owners are two Arab-American Syrians from New York who own the club and were its first investors, bringing the club’s financial and technical ability up to international standards. They’re also the first group of Americans to partner with a women’s club in the United Arab Emirates, an oil-rich, conservative nation that has had a poor reputation for women’s soccer and been known to harass players.
“There’s a lot of interest here in women’s soccer of all types,” said Mahmoud Shouleh, who co-owns the club with his wife, Samra, and who is the lead investor in the team. Shouleh also is the president of his own football club, Al-Quwa Al-Jawiya, and was the assistant coach of the women’s national team.
“This is an area we always wanted to come to,” he said. “We want to find the best people in the world to bring up the women’s game.”
Shouleh and his wife are two of just seven Americans to own soccer teams — a handful of other Americans have invested in women’s soccer teams — in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has also had poor or negative impressions of women’s soccer, according to the World Cup and Olympic committees, and to the United States Soccer Federation.
But the club’s new owners said that’s changing. And it’s not just the country: The UAE women’s national team will travel to the Middle East later this month, with the hopes of adding to its strong presence in the region.
The United Arab Emirates, a nation known for its extreme conservatism, does not allow women to play soccer or the use of hijab, which is the Muslim women’s headscarf, Shouleh said. But the team has been able to find a way around that, the