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The YSF Podcast: Engaging women from diverse ethnic backgrounds in sport

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Posted 9th February 2022

When Sofiya Makda picked up a rounders bat in 2015, she couldn’t have imagined the impact it was going to have on her life.

Sofiya was joining in with a summer holidays rounders session alongside her children, delivered by Ready Steady Active, a small organisation based in Kirklees, in West Yorkshire.

Sofiya was home schooling her five children when she used to take them to activity sessions led by Rashida Salloo, who was following her own passion for sport after ten years as an industrial chemist. Sofiya had recognised the importance of being active for her children’s physical health and also to support their social skills as part of her home schooling.

But it was when one of Sofiya’s daughters was diagnosed with type one diabetes aged nine, that keeping active took on additional importance. When Sofiya herself had the same diagnosis six months later, she knew she had to do more to look after her own health, too.

Sofiya shared her story on The YSF Podcast as the captain of Batley Ninja’s, a member of the West Yorkshire rounders committee, a small business owner, and healthier than she’s even been.

“I would never have guessed that I would be where I am right now,” she reflects.  “It has had a massive impact on my life in just a short amount of time.

“I’m a lot more confident. I know what I want and I have dreams I never thought I would have. From a stay-at-home mum with five kids, I’m now a coach, sit on the committee, run my own business. Even sometimes I sit back and think, ‘Wow’.

“At my age and with type one diabetes there are often a lot of complications, but I don’t have any of those. It’s all down to the fact that I was introduced to something that I really enjoy. I do boxing, I do weightlifting and I enjoy all sorts of sports now.”

Sofiya’s previous relationship with sport is a familiar one for many women. As life enters different stages, sport and being active is often the thing that takes a back seat. They may take their children to sessions, but what about them? It’s all the more prevalent for women from ethnically diverse backgrounds, with Sport England’s Active Lives report telling us that group is the least likely to be active.

The culture in many Muslim families can often be an additional barrier, with the support of males in the family a cornerstone of those who stay involved with the rounders league that launched in 2017, according to Sofiya. But she feels some of those attitudes are changing for the better, and with her improved confidence, is trying to support that.

“Without realising it, they’ve already put one barrier down and that stems from how our families will say education is more important. They don’t see sport as something that is necessary or worth it.

“Over the last few years I’ve noticed a massive change within our community in terms of exercise and how it helps our help both mentally and physically, especially with the rise of illnesses like diabetes.

“I’m sitting on the (West Yorkshire rounders) committee and they are 90% English. I’m the small percentage who’s not, and if we have a presentation evening then there’s the involvement of alcohol. When I first joined, I wouldn’t speak out and say what the Muslim community needed.

“But as I built a very close friendship with those on the committee, I realised part of it was my own fault. I needed to speak out about certain subjects because they didn’t understand. At first I used to feel worried or anxious about how they would take it.

“I grew up in a racist community. It wasn’t outwardly racist but you just didn’t say anything. We’re well away from that now, but as I grew up I wasn’t sure how to cope or deal with this. But I’ve realised one of the reasons they wanted me there (on the committee) was to speak my mind and tell them what to do. Hopefully this will now open lots more doors for Asian teams.

“One thing I have realised, is the women who have stayed with us are those who have supportive husbands. What I am finding now, especially within the kid’s team, is there are lots of dads who are super supportive now. The whole generation is slowly changing and it’s fantastic to see.”

Sofiya and Rashida share more of their experiences on The YSF Podcast, the podcast for those working in sport and physical activity.

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