Rugby's Hussain fights tradition
Wednesday 17 Apr 2002
Saima Hussain, the first Asian woman rugby player to be selected for a Great Britain squad, has had to battle against racism in her sport and disapproval from her community but is determined to fulfil her potential.
Saima, 22, has come in for been criticised by her fellow Muslims for her determination to bare her legs and risk life and limb playing rugby league.
Saima regularly challenges the traditionalists as she plays on the wing for Keighley Albion's women's team the Cats. Her success - with more than 20 tries last season - recently led to her becoming the first Asian woman to play for Yorkshire. Last year she made the record books by becoming the first Asian woman to be picked for a Great Britain squad.
She is only too aware of the horror of many in her community who believe the sports field is no place for a woman.
"A lot of Asians where I live think I am really, really bad because of what I do," she says. "But I am not taking drugs, I am not drinking. I am not doing anything wrong and at the end of the day I am still a Muslim."
"I respect my culture and its traditions but there are some aspects I don't agree with. The people who don't like what I do tend to be from the generation which thinks women should be at the kitchen sink - cooking and cleaning. Attitudes are changing now."
Saima first encountered touch-rugby at school and has played at team level for four years.
"I have known from the age of ten what I wanted to do, " she said. " My dad wanted me to be a doctor but I said no, I am going into sport."
"I am lucky that my mum and dad are very Westernised - but still they would have preferred it if my brother was playing rugby instead of me.
"My parents think I am just a bit mad - not right in the head," she jokes. "Dad says I need counselling."
Pretty and vivacious, and weighing just 8st 5lbs Saima describes herself as a "feminine rugby player."
But her legs are covered in bruises and a variety of injuries have landed her in out-patients on several occasions.
"People automatically assume that you have got to be big and butch and fat to play rugby, but it just isn't true," she said.
"I have got the speed and as a tackler I am not scared. The way I look at it if you tackle them hard once they won't come your side again."
Saima made a point of watching the recently released film Bend It Like Beckham, which depicts a young Asian girl's problems in pursuing a career in football, and believes it does accurately portray the problems faced by Asian women living in a Western culture.
It is an issue close to her heart. When she is not playing rugby she still does everything she can to encourage sport in her role as an Asian Development officer for leeds City Council.
She stressed: "There are Asian girls out there who are actually fantastic at sport but they are not allowed to go to sports clubs. So I go to the schools and work with them there.
"A lot of Asian girls are not allowed to participate in sport and I have to stress the benefits in health and fitness to their parents.
"I try to encourage Asian girls to take up sport, and I am able to say if I can do it then so can you."