Shireen Ahmed is an award-winning community organizer and athlete that believes in the universal language of sports. As one member of a team of five women, she is the co-host and creator of Burn It All Down, a podcast that analyzes sports culture through an intersectional feminist lens. Leading up to her TedXToronto talk, we spoke to the activist about progress and how we can provide more opportunities for women on and off the field.
You often discuss misogyny and racism in sports. Are you seeing progress in the community’s dialogue around these topics?
I think the same people are still doing the same things. You still have white men writing about race with no lived experience. They’re reporting on sexualized violence in sports using the wrong language that can be damaging and triggering. But I do see people from the margins getting more platforms. I see more journalists of colour, more non-binary folk, and more people from the LGBTQ community, and that makes me very hopeful. I want something fresh and interesting. I want to hear about different communities, not the same old, same old.
How is access to sports a gateway to opportunity for young women?
[I’ve had] women come up to me and tell me that they would love to be involved in sports, but they don’t feel welcome in those spaces. It’s really heartbreaking and telling of the culture that we have. Sports are for everyone. They connect people to different communities. To not have women in those spaces is really problematic. I want to see women as analysts, sideline reporters, columnists, editors, and producers. I want to see women in all ranks because that’s where we are in the world. Why should we not be reflected in that media? It’s really important for women to be leading the conversation, not just be a part of it.
We don’t realize what we do to girls. We don’t realize what society does and by the time they get to middle school, so many of them drop out of stuff that they’re good at. I have a 17-year-old daughter who has stuck with soccer and wants to play at postsecondary institutions, but I’ve seen so many girls withdraw. They don’t see themselves supported or reported on. [Sports] doesn’t appeal to girls because it can be really demeaning. Two percent of women’s sports was actually given air time. How can you aspire to be something that you don’t see?
Which athletes do you think the world has the most to learn from right now?
My go-to answer would be Megan Rapinoe because what she’s done as a white ally for women’s football to talk about racism, equal pay, LGBTQ issues, and racism all while amplifying women’s soccer is magnificent and glorious. Also, Caster Semenya. She doesn’t get an opportunity to compete right now in Doha where the international track and field championships are happening because there was a rule specifically created to exclude her. That is really hard to see and I think we could learn a lot from her story.
What was your favourite sports moment this year?
Earlier, the Toronto Raptors announced that they would be releasing a hijab with a Raptors logo on it. That was huge for me. I was literally crying at my computer when I saw that story. Seeing those women being supported by Nike and then by a sports franchise, it was the first of its kind to happen in North America. They were the first NBA team to do so. It just made me think that it really wasn’t that difficult to include this community. They did it and it gave me shivers because I cannot imagine as a child what it would’ve done for me if I saw that. It was hugely impactful and beautiful because you see the possibilities with these young girls. There’s space for them where there hasn’t always been space. That was huge for me.