Asma Elbadawi is a celebrated basketball player and coach who was born in Sudan and raised in England. She and her friends succeeded in getting over 130,000 people to sign an online petition, and that resulted in FIBA reversing its decision and overturning a ban on hijabs in professional basketball.
In 2017, she petitioned and succeeded in convincing the International Basketball Association to remove a ban on hijabs and religious headwear in the professional sport.
Through her career, she has battled stereotypes. “I felt like the meaning of strong for me was to be masculine and get the job done without feeling anything,” Elbadawi said.
She recalled her love for sports was questioned as anti-hijab comments came her way. “Why can’t you just take off your hijab and play sports? If you love sports that much, just take it off,” Elbadawi told CNN.
Elbadawi lives in Bradford in northern England and plays with the hijab. Now she stays true to herself, her religion and her passion for the sport. She’s played for the University of Sunderland, Bradford Dragons and Bradford Cobras.
Apart from being an athlete, Elbadawi is an activist and also a successful spoken word poet whose dual cultural heritage deeply influences her creativity, coupled with a passion for international development and female empowerment.
In 2016, she won BBC Radio 1xtra’s Words First competition in Leeds. Some of her performances
Elbadawi holds a BA Hons in Photography, Video and Digital Imaging as well as a Masters in Visual Arts. She has had poetry pieces published in a Muslim women’s Anthology titled “The things I would tell you”.
She said a primary motivation which fuels her obsession with achieving her very best in whatever she turns her hand to is the feeling that she had no relatable role models in popular culture whilst growing up in Yorkshire. Elbadawi is bent on changing this, she wants to “be the change she wished to see in the world”.
She worked with secondary schools to discuss gender issues and life skills with pupils during a charitable placement in Tanzania. 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!”
Still leading a successful basketball career, Elbadawi wants to encourage more women, especially Muslim women to participate in sports. “Sport was a part of my life. It always had its own time and space,” she said.
“Everything that I learned in sports, I then apply in my real life and I think that’s why I was really passionate about Muslim women being able to take part in sports and to play in high levels”
Elbadawi has proven that basketball is an inclusive sport, accepting of all regardless of faith or gender. Last year, she was named Rising Athlete of the Year at the British Muslim Awards.