Asma Elbadawi, celebrated basketball player and coach, isn’t someone who likes to hear the word ‘can’t’. The 27-year-old from a Sudanese background recently generated a lot of attention when she successfully lobbied the international basketball association, FIBA, to remove a ban on hijabs and religious headwear.
Proving that one person can spark a change, she wrote passionately about how the ban affects her enjoyment of a sport which she loves. The result? She managed to get 130,000 people to sign an online petition, leading to FIBA overturning their decision.
Not content with just making an impact on the basketball court, however, she’s also making waves in the world of spoken word poetry. To mark last year’s Women’s Sport Week, the BBC published a poem she wrote about being a female Muslim basketball player. Later that year, BBC Three published another poem of hers – titled Boys Will Be Boys – about masculinity (below). Almost all of Asma’s poetry is rooted in raising awareness of important social issues, building bonds between different communities and shattering glass ceilings.
Elbadawi has spoken candidly about how, when she was growing up in Yorkshire, she felt that she had no relatable role models in popular culture. Adamant on changing this, she set out to “be the change she wished to see in the world”. She cites this as a primary motivation which fuels her obsession with achieving her very best in whatever she turns her hand to. And she’s not doing a bad job.
During a charitable placement in Tanzania, she worked with secondary schools to discuss gender issues and life skills with pupils. She ran a series of discussion groups which were inspired by her love for basketball. She began a basketball session for boys and girls based around the idea of gender equality and teamwork. “As a woman coaching the boys, I was the talk of the town. But they were totally fine with it,” she said. “They listened to me. No-one ever disrespected me. No-one ever shouted over me. Plus, they’d seen me play!”
Through her own persistence, Asma has been able to show that basketball is an inclusive sport, accepting of all regardless of faith or gender.