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HFCA: Tapping into Cambodian girls’ passion for football

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The members of HFCA Girls team pose for a group photo. HFCA

Happy Football Cambodia Australia (HFCA) was founded in 2005 with a commitment to work with underprivileged youth in Cambodia through football.

Opportunities to engage in competitive sport are limited for most Cambodian children. This is especially true for those from economically deprived backgrounds. Typically, girls have less access than boys.

Different topics, including gender equality, non-violent conflict resolution and health, and other life skills are introduced to HFCA female players who attend the weekly programmes and compete in external football competitions such as the HFCA U18 Girls team in the AIA ISF (Indochina Starfish Foundation) Youth League.

The AIA-ISF Youth League is a six-month annual tournament that offers boys and girls from underprivileged backgrounds the rare opportunity to play football in a safe environment, with the ultimate aim of reducing inequalities and helping players to lead healthier, longer and better lives.

The HFCA Girls team are taking part in the AIA-ISF League Season for the second year. The HFCA team has 18 players in the squad, all fighting for a place in the starting lineup of seven. It’s a roll-on/ roll-off substitutions format so everyone gets a game and matches last 40 minutes, with two halves of 20 minutes each.

For the 2019-2020 Season, the HFCA team is joined by nine other teams of note, including Happy Chandara, Children of Asia, ISF SMC and powerhouse PSE.

On March 18, all teams were notified of the season’s suspension due to COVID-19. The HFCA Girls team are looking forward to playing football again when it’s safe to do so.

When asked what inspires her to play football, 17-year-old Penhleak said: “There are many reasons for me because I think Cambodia doesn’t give much value to women in football, especially many [traditional] families. That’s why I want to prove to them that Cambodians could play just as good as other countries and women have the same rights as men.”

When asked about her own family’s thoughts about her football career, Penhleak gave a very honest answer: “Personally I’m on my own, because my family is not satisfied with what I do, but what inspires us the most is ourselves. Therefore, we always have our own backs. If we don’t encourage each other, our performances will be weaker and weaker.”

Channa, another star player on the HFCA team, said playing football gives many benefits. “It gives us benefits such as maintaining good health and meeting new people from different teams. I have been practising for over two years now. I have loved it from a young age,” she stressed.

When asked what her family thought of her football career, the 16-year-old said: ‘’They don’t really have much of an opinion. Sometimes it might be quite dangerous, but I always carry on with the game. I just want to say that although we are girls, we can still play football because this sport doesn’t belong to any specific gender.”

Paraic Grogan, founder of HFCA, stressed that they are 100 percent committed to female participation in sports.

“There are unique challenges to ensuring HFCA can honour our commitment to these young women. When we see their passion for football during training every Saturday and their desire to show women can play the game as well as men this inspires everyone at HFCA to never give up regardless of the challenges,” he said. (PR)

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