Anyone who has ever loved sports knows the power they have to change people’s lives. That’s what the UAE’s first female-only football club, Onyx FC, is doing with its barrier-breaking initiative to provide a foundation for Arab women in sports. The organisation has been successfully running its operations for a year and has now attracted the attention of sportswear titan, adidas, who has officially announced its partnership with the football club this autumn.

Together, adidas and Onyx FC are providing opportunities for young women looking to change their lives–and the world–within their sports community. The partnership will yield sustainability-centred activations, like desert and beach clean-ups, as well as support the athletic talent of young women in the UAE. In an exclusive interview with Grazia, Onyx FC co-founder Hind Al Zarouni shares what this partnership with the sportswear giant means to Onyx FC and how the program has enriched the lives of young female athletes by providing them with a safe space to develop technical skills and values that transcend the field.

Courtesy of Onyx FC

What positive impact have sports had in your life that led you to want to create opportunities for Arab women in sports?

Hind Al Zarouni: Sports are something that brings people together, which in my experience, has had a positive impact on my life, and I have always enjoyed playing various sports with my family and friends. Traditionally football was always seen as a male sport, particularly in this part of the world, and although growing up I loved playing football, there was no football academy here in the UAE to provide me with the support I needed as a female from a young age. One of the reasons we created Onyx FC was to provide an opportunity for girls and women to play football in a supportive environment. Onyx FC is owned and managed by women, and women in this region are at the heart of everything we do.

Why was it important to create a program for enthusiastic female footballers in the UAE? 

HZ: Female empowerment and community are incredibly important to us at Onyx FC, and for us, it was important to create a community where women and girls of all nationalities, cultures and religions can come and feel comfortable in training with a full female team. We are the UAE’s first fully female-owned football club. All of our coaches are female, with previous professional playing experience and UEFA qualifications, which brings quality and experience to our football programmes for women and girls of all abilities.

Courtesy of Onyx FC

What does Adidas’s support of Onyx FC mean to you and the program at large?

HZ: We believe that our core values are in-line with the adidas brand values. We want all women to feel welcome and enjoy football no matter what their ability is or who they are. We share the same vision to empower women in the region to play sports, and we’re grateful for the support we have received from adidas so far. We hope this will encourage more women and girls to join us and be part of the community.

What do you hope young female athletes will take away from participating in Onyx FC? 

HZ: I would like every female who joins Onyx FC to leave feeling empowered, capable and supported. As a club, we want them to learn the value of being in a team, working together and sharpening skills, both individually and as a team. For us, it’s about much more than just football, it’s a community of women coming together and empowering one another, both on and off the pitch.

Courtesy of Onyx FC

Could you give an example of a valuable skill learned on the field that is unique to the experience of playing sports? 

HZ: There are many skills to be learned in sports that are transferable to daily life. Two I would like to highlight are resilience and support.

Resilience is certainly a skill that is developed by playing sports, and competing as part of a team provides a unique opportunity for resilience to be instilled and adopted. The ability to firstly fail, then learn from the setback and keep moving forward is a skill that is essential to cope with life’s challenges. Playing team sports means that these setbacks are experienced together. Players are there to support one another and apply what they have learned from these experiences to work towards the team’s goal. Offering and receiving support from teammates is something that can be taken into everyday life to build relationships both professionally and personally. Support is something we encourage at Onyx FC throughout our whole community.