Ayisat Yusuf speaking at Inspires conference (photo: Fare network).
Ayisat Yusuf speaking at Inspires conference (photo: Fare network).

Ayisat Yusuf

Choose your own path

Olaf van Muijden
Olaf van Muijden FMH contributor

Beginnings

Ayisat Yusuf was born on 6 March 1985. She played professional football for Vero-Bim, Fc Obi-Babe, Capital Queens, Delta Queens, Nasarawa Amazons, NiceFutis, KMF Kuopio among others and 68 times for the national team of Nigeria. But her way to the top wasn’t easy. She shared her story with us, which (although painful) may inspire people.

Getting punished for playing football

Ayisat grew up in a Muslim home. Her father was an imam. After the death of her father, the family took her away from her mother to raise her elsewhere. She often got punished for playing football. Ayisat: “I often sneaked out to play football with boys from the neighbourhood. I played barefoot and when I came back home my aunt could see that my legs were dirty because of the sand, so I got flogged and they gave me no food. This happened many times.” She was even kept at home and not allowed to go to school, as she explained: “I never finished high school because of this, and I don’t have a degree, because someone saw me play football at school and told my aunt and my family, who therefore decided to keep me at home as a punishment.”

Ayisat now had to work selling soft drinks in the streets during traffic and helping at home cooking and cleaning. One day she took the courage to ask her aunt why she actually was not allowed to play football. “She told me the reason I couldn’t play football was that I was a girl, and it was a taboo, we were from a Muslim home and it was against the Quran, and to make things worse if you play football when you grow up you cannot make babies. As a child I believed this to be true.”

A new path

At the age of fifteen she decided to run away and seek a new future elsewhere. She now played football until dark every day. While she sat shivering from the cold one evening, an unknown woman took her home and that woman’s husband later brought her to a local football team, Vero-Bim Queens of Labours. Two years later she was scouted and ended up playing in Europe (Finland and Sweden) as well as for the national team of Nigeria.

Role model

At her first World Cup during the national anthem, Ayisat couldn’t control her emotions anymore. Tears of joy were flowing. At home her family and friends now realised what football meant for her and changed their perspectives. In Nigeria she became well-known due to magazines publishing her story. She had proven that a Muslim girl can play football and become successful and make it to the national team. And this is what still motivates Ayisat: to break stereotypes, to change perspectives, to show that every child is able to play sport.

Ayisat has been doing this for over nine years now in her work for Monaliiku ry, an organisation in Finland all about women’s integration, inclusivity in society and sports in particular. She does it as one of the few black women coaches managing a boys’ team of FC Viikingit and via her own foundation SheFootball. Her foundation now reaches four hundred girls in Nigeria via football events. “As a child I didn’t have a role model, so I am proud I can be one, but it also gives me more responsibility.” 

Thinking points 

In the end she forgave her family, who apologised to her. Ayisat now has two children (a son and daughter both in their early teens), and has kept playing (recreational) football … while pregnant. For the love of the game. Educators could work with her story and discuss:

  • How is football perceived in terms of gender roles and norms?
  • Which role does migration play in her life story?
  • What motivates football players to talk to young people after their career? What does being a role model mean to you?

Find out more

The Life Story is based on an interview conducted by Olaf van Muijden at the INSPIRES conference. You can find out more about Ayisat on her inspiring FIFPro profile page. Her NGO SheFootball is very much worth following and exploring.

Photo Gallery

Not allowed to play football, but made it to the national team.

Life Story 129

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Ayisat Yusuf speaking at Inspires conference (photo: Fare network).
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