As part of the World Cup, we are highlighting football that takes place on the ground. Amid the criticism and debate surrounding Qatar, we have rarely heard from people who live and work there. This month we’ve teamed up with Goal Click to highlight a series of features from GOALS – a storytelling program produced by The Sports Creative, Qatar Foundation, Generation Amazing, Salam Stores, and Goal Click. These stories cover more than 40 people, representing 20 nationalities - the majority of women - share their own stories of football, community, and life in Qatar in 2022.
Mariama Bukari is a student at Hamad Bin Khalifa University and the Founder of Black Strikas, a youth football club in her home country of Ghana. As part of the GOALS program, Mariama tells the story of growing up as a women’s footballer, creating Black Strikas, and her experiences in Qatar.
I am a Ghanaian woman from a family of footballers and football fans. For most families in Ghana, it is unheard of for a woman to choose sport as a career path. I am different, I consider sport as my lifelong career partner.
Football has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. It began with my family when I was a young girl. Every harvest season our family would come together on our farm in Tema. With my sister and my cousins, we would play football close to the farm. The pitch was right across the street - raw with sand, and no grass.
My father encouraged all of his six children to pursue football, even the girls. Perhaps he hoped for a miracle that one of his superstars would be spotted by a good agent and placed high above in the clouds.
My childhood is filled with memories of competitive games. I played for my school and every day I would play with the boys. If we did not have a football, we would play with anything round! I also played for a community club called His Majesty - and trained briefly with a women’s team, Tema Ladies.
In Ghana at that time, there were many with the potential to be on the international stage. However, talented players were largely taken away from the classroom. I took a different path with education to make sure I did not end up as a disappointed talented player with nothing else.
I have two brothers who have dropped out of school to pursue football opportunities and another who is on the verge of doing so. For me, this is the issue. Somehow, football success has become synonymous with dropping out of school.
I wanted to change this in my community.
One day in 2019, I was walking in my neighbourhood and I saw some workers playing football on the pitch nearby. While I was watching them, I saw some kids also playing nearby. I decided to watch the kids instead, but as I approached them, I realised they were not playing with a football. Instead they were playing with a piece of fruit - an old, spoilt orange.
I asked why they were playing with an orange instead of proper football and they said they did not have a football. I asked them if they wanted me to bring them a football. The next day, I went with a new football and we played together. Even though some were wearing jeans, some played barefoot, and some were without a shirt, everyone has so much fun.
We did that for three days in a row. On the third day, I asked the children if they wanted to form a youth team. At first it was a joke; “oh, do you think we could become a football club?” But the kids responded seriously and therefore, so did I.
I started the process to form the ‘Black Strikas’ - my own grassroots youth football club. We started serious regular training. However, my club would be different. Every ‘Black Strikas’ player could only secure membership with good grades in school.
Black Strikas is becoming more active in Tema - and I now have a volunteer coach who trains the children every week in my absence.
Around the same time, a friend of mine told me about Qatar Foundation scholarships, and when I found out that QF had sports-focused scholarships, I applied. I did not believe I would be given the scholarship but after some months I received a letter from the school that I had received admission together with the scholarship.
Receiving the scholarship came with mixed feelings. I was so happy, but at the same time I had never travelled outside of Ghana and did not know what to expect from Qatar. A friend who had lived in Qatar met with me and reassured me about the opportunity.
Once I arrived in Qatar, I adjusted so quickly. Of course, the change of food was difficult and I missed my family, but over time I have adapted and now I would like to stay even longer. Coming to Qatar to pursue my education in my field of interest is one of the best decisions I have ever made and one I will never regret.
Qatar is a very safe and welcoming country. I had a very different opinion when I was coming to the country. You can leave your valuables in any place and come back in a few days, they will still be there. That is how safe the country is.
I am studying at Hamad Bin Khalifa University, where I am pursuing my master's degree in sports and entertainment management. I am grateful to study at one of the best universities in the world, under the mentorship of wonderful professors.
I have met a lot of people from different parts of the world in Qatar. I have gained so much experience, it has been overwhelming. Being in Qatar has enabled me to volunteer for the FIFA Arab Cup, and I hope to do the same for the FIFA World Cup in 2022.
It is amazing to think that Qatar, where I live, will host the FIFA World Cup and Ghana will be here! I am so lucky and feel so special to be here to witness my country participating. It is a very special moment for me.
I took photos of Ghana Black Stars of Doha FC, an amateur football club playing in the Qatar Community Football League. Football player Mohammed Muntari is also a coach for Ghana Black Stars. He left Ghana and now plays for the Qatar national team and Al-Duhail SC. He helps the Ghana Black Stars in the community league.
Football is truly at the heart of all I have achieved and experienced, which is why I call football my lifelong career partner. My football journey is evolving and I keep going with my dream to positively change the story of girls' football and education in Ghana and Africa.
When girls are passionate about football or any sport, they should never feel it is not for them because culture does not support it. With education, I know what a powerful path sport is.
Ghana is now embracing women’s football, especially compared to my time growing up. Although we still need more education to increase understanding and for the community to embrace it more.
Qatar also seems to be embracing women’s sports now. Most sports academies are now creating lots of activities for women. I would like to see more women’s football competitions.
I want to be a role model to the next generation of girls. As a young girl, I just wanted a level playing field.