Muslim mother-of-three Zainab Alema is out to smash stereotypes in rugby. The Londoner plays prop for Richmond RFC and has ambitions to make it to the very top of the game. Juggling life as a nurse and mother alongside her rugby career hasn’t been easy, especially when your own family don’t understand. ‘Rugby is a man’s sport. Rugby is an elite sport. Why do you want to play rugby? Why not tennis?’ This was the reaction of her father, a British Ghanian Muslim, when Zainab started out in rugby.
‘He saw representation in tennis for a black woman. Not in rugby’. Zainab acknowledges this lack of representation in the sport as a simple truth. ‘I could count the number of Muslim players in this country on one hand’. But she also sees it as a responsibility she is willing to take on. She confidently proposes that if you want to see something then sometimes you have to be it yourself. ‘I want to see myself represented on the big stage and I realised that if I wanted to see that, that person has to be me. I can’t wait for it.’
Zainab’s nickname in the game is bulldozer and it is apt. ‘I’m out to smash stereotypes as a bulldozer would on a building site’. Her dream is to wear the hijab with an England kit and pave the way for other young Muslim women to do the same. ‘How can rugby clubs accommodate for Muslim players? Playing with a hijab. Not drinking. It’s about reducing barriers to entry. I’m taking one for the team for the Muslim community. Especially as a woman. If people can see me progressing from where I started from, they will think they can do it too’.