The women battling for a national senior team in Egypt

By Celestine KaroneyBBC Sport Africa, Nairobi
Egypt's 2018 Women's World Junior Handball Championships squad
Egypt's women have had teams at the World Youth and Junior Championships but there is no senior women's team

Egypt's men are the reigning African handball champions and have qualified for the Olympics seven times, including for Tokyo next year, but the women do not have a senior national team.

"The girls are not ready, the girls get married, the girls get fat," are some of the reasons that the Egypt Handball Federation (EHF) is reluctant to set up the team, federation board member Mona Amin told BBC Sport Africa.

The comments have been denied by the EHF president Hisham Nasr.

Instead he says that: "The girls are unwilling to form a women's senior team because they don't want to maintain the same level of physicality and mentally by putting in more effort."

Amin, a former player and the only woman on the EHF's seven-member board, points out that other sports have senior women's teams.

"Yes the girls now or later may get married or may not but that has not prevented volleyball and basketball having national senior teams, the handball federation is discriminating against women," Amin insisted.

"This discrimination between girls and boys is in everything, in the way they train, the way they dress, in the way they pay for trainers - for girls it's little amount for the boys it's a big amount."

At present the EHF does organise an under-18 (youth) and an under-20 (junior) women's team, but there has not been a consistent senior team in almost a decade.

Nasr has another explanation behind the failure to set up a senior national team.

"Unfortunately the girls over time, start to have many other interests away from handball (after playing at junior level)," he explained to BBC Sport Africa.

"And undoubtedly, the sport is based on the motivation and the will to succeed, and this was the main problem we faced over the past decades."

"We need motivation"

Lama Elshawarby a former captain of Egypt's national junior handball team
Lama Elshawarby captained Egypt at the Women's World Junior Handball Championships and is campaigning for a senior women's team to be established

Lama Elshawarby, a former junior national team captain, agrees with him that motivation is key but says that should come from a national team.

She has has taken her fight for recognition to social media as she demands the federation fulfils a long-standing promise to create a senior national team.

"If we had a national senior team then we would be motivated," she insisted to BBC Sport Africa.

"Now we are training and playing for the passion, for the love of the game, but if you have a real motivation you'd be interested more in the sport as well."

In 2016 the women's youth side finished ninth at the 24-team world championships.

Many of the ladies expected this to finally be the building block for a senior women's team but after the team failed to impress at the 2018 Junior World Championships the idea for a senior team was again put on hold, again.

The President cites these contrasting performances by the teams, made up largely of the same set of players, as an example of a lack of ambition.

"This explains the difference in the mentality and the ambitions to continue playing handball for girls," he said.

A lack of preparation

Egypt's 2018 Women's World Junior Handball Championships squad
Many of the squad at the 2018 Women's World Junior Handball Championships had helped Egypt finish ninth at the global youth tournament two years earlier

Elshawarby has a different explanation of why the 2018 team struggled.

"They told us we didn't do well in Junior World Championships in 2018 but this was because of lack of preparations, we got one month of training before the championships," she said.

"We didn't even have a fitness coach, and they asked us to do as we did in the last championships we just couldn't."

Nasr argues that the national teams for both genders are only assembled for short periods for international assignments and neither team gets preferential treatment.

"The men's team had exactly the same preparation period and both teams also had the same number of friendly matches," he pointed out.

"The federation's role, is to prepare the national team for the international tournaments and to increase their fitness levels.

"Whereas, the club's role is to train the players during the season and improving their technical level."

However EHF board member Amin says this is exactly why Egyptian national teams tend to struggle at the highest level.

"We always start from scratch because it is easier for them because they don't want to take the responsibility," she argues.

"Having a new team is easier as you aren't really given a target. I have claimed several times to have (permanent) senior national teams and it has always been refused and this is the dilemma we have."

The girls are 'slaves'

Even at club level the girls claim they are at a disadvantage compared to the men's game.

The men not only play professionally with proper contracts in place but also have a transfer system in place.

Despite having 16 clubs in the league, the ladies say they are forced to stay at their childhood clubs unlike the men's league where the transfer market start two years after a player has begun playing as a senior.

"We don't have contracts in our clubs. There's no market, I cannot move to another club if my club doesn't want me. I am stuck forever," Elshawarby lamented.

Amin goes further in her criticism of the system for the women's teams.

"You are a slave because you start playing when you are a seven or eight, until you finish playing handball and there's no choice (of clubs)," she explained.

"Boys have freedom, they can have a contract, they (the federation) ensure the clubs make a contract for the boys.

"When I requested a contract for the girls they said 'no we cannot force the clubs'.

"But you (the EHF) force the clubs for the boys so why don't you force the clubs for the girls?"

Nasr insists though that women are able to change clubs if they want to.

"Female players in Egypt are amateur, so, according to the regulations, in case of the player's transfer between two clubs, the player has to get the approval of her club before playing and being registered at another club," he explained.

Swapping nationalities to play internationals

The situation is also leading to players swapping national allegiances in order to play international handball.

Last year Rehab Gomaa, who started her career playing in Egypt before moving to play professionally in France, chose to become a French citizen.

"After the Egyptian Ministry of Sports and the Egyptian Handball Federation ignored me, I decided to agree to naturalization," she posted on social media.

"I was playing in the name of the Egyptian team, but the officials ignored the reason that I decided to play for another country.

"My dream was to play for my country, but Egypt ignoring the game was the reason for my approval of naturalization.

"Finally I would like to change Egyptian society's view of women, because indeed the Egyptian women are capable of achieving exactly the same as the men's teams."

For Elshawarby and her generation, who have now progressed through the junior and youth ranks, it feels that without a senior women's team they have nothing more to look forward to in handball.

Top Stories