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Worldwide, Girls Soccer Goes Beyond the Field

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Usually summer is a down time for youth soccer but out in Oak Brook recently, a sports icon held an intense soccer camp. It drew about 60 teen girls. Many aspire to become pros someday, but it also attracted several young women from Morocco and Afghanistan who have little chance to play as adults. We sent Lisa Matuska to the camp, to see what one Moroccan girl learned from a female soccer celebrity.

FOUDY: How we all doing?

This is Julie Foudy. She's a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and World Cup Champion. For most of the 60 girls sitting in front of Foudy, she's a national hero. But one girl seems less impressed. Imane Sallah says she doesn't know much about Julie Foudy, or any female soccer player for that matter.

SALLAH: My favorite soccer player is Zinedine Zidane.

It turns out Imane's favorite player is a man who was on the French national team. Imane's choice reflects the state of women's soccer in her home country of Morocco. Imane grew up watching men play the game.

SALLAH: My brother was a soccer player and I was always going with them to watch him play then I love this game and I like to start playing.

Imane was 8 when she started playing. Now she's 19. She's played in the United States and Germany. She says it's clear that in Morocco no one stops girls from playing but they don't encourage them either.

SALLAH: Because the others say to them oh you are like boy why you play, that's why.

So what's the consequence? Sallah says there are fewer chances for young girls to play on organized teams and as girl become women, they usually stop playing. This is exactly why Julie Foudy wanted to include international players in her camp.

FOUDY: You grow up thinking everyone plays why isn't that world wide, I was shocked when I went abroad to find that it's not that simple, Here it's not a gender issue, in many other countries it is. They just think it's a man's game and women shouldn't be playing and so you're seeing slowly that minds are changing and people are being more accepting of it but most importantly for is, I just want girls to participate in sports.

For Foudy sports isn't just about exercise, it's about cooperation, teamwork, and leadership.

FOUDY: You know, not everyone is going to stand on podium or hold world cup trophy, that's such a few minority so why don't we talk about all these great things that you learn from sports that you apply to life and do it more overtly.

For the next five days, Imane and the other Moroccan girls do sit through the leadership classes, but they're not used to talking about soccer, they're used to playing it.

Field ambi

It was on the field that they felt comfortable. And coaches say the girls have talent and have a future in soccer. But is that the future for Imane?

She says American style women's soccer is not in the cards for Morocco.

SALLAH: Especially the girls team it can't be famous and famous in the world like the United States team.

But this doesn't bother her.

Even after camp her favorite player is still Zinedine Zidane- you know that French guy. She says she doesn't want to play soccer professionally in Morocco or in the US. She'd rather run programs like this one at home.

SALLAH: Every people must know that the sport it help to develop the economy it help to develop the people the social many things like that for that they must take care of soccer and they must help soccer player to develop their service and then to develop the society, that's it.

For Imane, a week at this camp in Chicago confirmed what she thought all along- that the value of soccer goes beyond the whistle and the final score.

For Chicago Public Radio, I'm Lisa Matuska.

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