Whilst it’s a laudable notion that sport and politics should never mix, in reality it’s almost impossible to separate one from another. How a nation views their athletes and sportspeople often reflects the prevailing socio-political views. For example, the way women are treated in highly religious societies tends to reflect their ability to participate in professional competition. The more tolerant and liberal the country, the more open the opportunities tend to be.
After the brutal overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libyans looked forward to an era of new freedoms and liberalism. Women played an important role in this revolution. The regime, whilst relatively liberal in its gender politics for an Arab state, still held many privations. Independence has seen a greater public role for women within politics but these freedoms are often confined within religious beliefs, scripture and traditions in a country where extremism is on the rise.
Naziha Arebi’s new documentary, Freedom Fields, focuses on three members of the Libyan national football team. Nama, Halima and Fadwa met and became friends on the football field but their lives are very different. Despite coming from contrasting backgrounds they are united in their desire to represent their country. Shooting began in 2012 and follows the team through their struggles to compete on an international stage over several years. Their team’s future largely taken out of their own hands.
Freedom Fields is a bold and vibrant documentary which looks at Libyan society in the years following the revolution through the microcosm of the women’s football team. The decision to focus on the three players pays off. They’re all different characters and their individual challenges taken together build up a picture of what life is like in post-revolutionary Libya. Their overriding desire to simply play football and represent their country shines through. The obstacles put in their way, mostly by men, demonstrate the challenges women face in their everyday lives.
Freedom Fields is out in cinemas from 31 May.