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Catherine Morton-Abuah

‘It’s definitely therapy’: finding home and community in sport

To celebrate the launch of adidas’ new Hyperglam collection, we sat down with Tara Moussavi, Fatma Sadiq and Grace Allen to talk about community, safe spaces and what sports mean to them.

02 Jul 2021

Supported by adidas

Beyond physical health, getting into sports and joining a team can provide mental wellbeing, friendship and much more, and finding like-minded people when you’re from a marginalised community can have so many more benefits. Fly Girl Collective, ASRA run club, and queer poc basketball collective are all clubs centred on providing space for members to just be themselves, focus on their sport and not have to worry about being othered. 

“It’s really hard as queer PoC to feel like you have a community right now,” Tara Moussavi, one of the founders of queer poc basketball collective says. After nightlife stopped – an integral part of queer communities – Tara decided to start playing basketball with some friends over lockdown. From there, we invited more friends and now we have 10 or 15 people that just meet up every now and then.”

ASRA run club is a space centring Muslim women, Fatma Sadiq who also boxes, joined to find like-minded people to run alongside. “I used to be part of another running club in the park, I definitely felt left out, partly because everyone there was white,” she admits she couldn’t find her space until she found people who didn’t care about what she was wearing but how she was performing. 

“I was always a solo runner,” says Grace Allen who has been running for 10 years but decided to join Fly Girl Collective over the lockdown. “We’re all on the same vibe and it’s really comfortable, really welcoming and just a safe space for me,” she adds. “I don’t worry about anything else around me. I’m just in with the group. And that’s it.”

An animation featuring a woman throwing a punch in a mint hijab and lilac adidas tracksuit. The animation has a peach background with a smiley face, butterfly and bee emoji, as well as the words 'KO' animated and a small animation of the woman in the top left throwing punches.
Animation by Catherine Morton-Abuah

Safe spaces and cultural understanding

Playing sports with a group of people who understand your needs is imperative for any safe space to thrive in a collective.

Taking into consideration religion and how it intersects with her sport is key for Fatma. We’re preparing for a half marathon in August,” Fatma says, “our training plan was given to us to accommodate for the Ramadan period and we were given a nutrition plan, that’s not even a consideration at other run clubs.”

This sentiment of extra care is something Tara agrees with. “That’s literally the same with basketball. In your safe space, you’d get to just play basketball, without having to think about anything else,” Tara says. “What I wear is quite androgynous,” says Tara who is non-binary. “Just having a safe space to dress how I want and it’s not something that’s questioned at all, this goes back to being comfortable in what you’re doing.”

“Being a single parent, my sport for me is my break time,” Grace adds. “So I think safe spaces [where I’m] just able to Be Me is perfect and very, very needed.” 

Feeling comfortable in what you wear

Whether it’s wearing colourful shorts, androgynous clothes, or a floor-length skirt, more than anything choice, variety and feeling comfortable, both physically and emotionally, while playing sport is key. 

“In my old running club and even in boxing, they would be like ‘are you not hot in that?” But obviously, at ASRA, I don’t have that problem,” Fatma says. “When I’m running with ASRA it’s so freeing because I can run in an abaya, I can run in a long skirt and I won’t feel self-conscious,” 

This is something that resonates with Tara. “When I first started I used to play with my brother at our local park with a few other guys and then at a local basketball club that was majority guys,” Tara explains. “I was very self-conscious of the way that I dressed, I’m Iranian, I’m quite hairy and it’s taken me until now to fully accept that. 

“Now, I just don’t care about my hair anymore. Wearing shorts and having hairy legs, it’s not an issue – I don’t have to focus on that, whereas if I’m around loads of cis men in a space, I’m slightly concerned about how I look,” they add. Having a space to focus on what they’re doing and “not irrelevant things” is crucial for Tara. 

“When we’re thinking about these other things, it’s like it’s taking away from our performance,” Fatma adds. “We need to channel our energy into our runs, into basketball, into our boxing.” 

As for Grace, turning up and not feeling self-conscious is a breath of fresh air. “I really don’t want to have to be thinking about, ‘oh gosh, does my hair look really frizzy today? Should I have not worn shorts today?” she says. 

I always used to have an issue with wearing shorts,” Grace admits, “I’m not great at running in the heat, but one thing I will say, from joining Fly Girl Collective, there’s a big emphasis on self-worth and whatever you want to wear you should wear it and look fly.” 

An animation of a person with a basketball mid bounce. The animation features a person in an ice blue adidas shorts and sport crop top two-piece and white adidas trainers. The animation is on a purple background and features the words 'nothing but net' and a sun emoji as well as a small 'shoot your shot' animation with a basketball and hoop. There is also a small looped animation in the top left of the person shooting a shot.
Animation by Catherine Morton-Abuah

What makes good sportswear? 

“I have a really good adidas sports bra,” Tara says. “It’s just comfortable, I feel like sports bras, they just need to fit you in a way that you don’t feel like you’re suffocating but also they support your boobs.”

“For me, I feel like the ethical side of things is really important,” Fatma says. “adidas accommodate hijabis, and they do have longer pieces,“ she says. But personally what makes for good workout gear for Fatma is “a good pair of trainers that are comfortable, that’s very important to me.”

“I have a few adidas pieces,” Grace says. “I like variety, I also sweat loads so the pieces that I have are quite good at absorbing all of the sweat from my long runs”

Sport for wellbeing

“I used to call it my free therapy when I first started running,” Grace says. These moments felt like the only time she had in the day where her mind wasn’t racing and she could simply concentrate on her breathing. It especially helped Grace get through difficult times in her twenties. “Now it’s more enjoyable, It’s just me time. It’s obviously a physical activity and keeps me fit and healthy, but it’s the only time where I don’t think about what I’ve got to do tomorrow.” 

“It’s definitely therapy,” Fatma agrees, “I also see it as worship because I’m looking after my body,” which, she says, is an important part of her faith. But sports also acted as a constant when other parts of Fatma’s life became stressful. “Seeing myself improve at boxing and seeing the time I run go down or just seeing myself improve, that made me keep going, it was like, ‘okay, I’m not failing in all areas of life.” 

After moving, and lockdown restrictions meant Tara could no longer work as security at queer venues, the feeling of isolation began to set in. That was until they began playing basketball. “When I met with one person from the collective and then started this basketball group, it gave me that feeling again, a sense of community”, they say. “When you’re with a group of people that you relate to in some type of way but you don’t have to talk about that thing specifically you can just do something else, it feels really nice.” 

More than anything, this year has proved the power of community. And for Fatma, Grace and Tara, sports collectives have been their ways of fostering friendships, creating respite, and offering space to unapologetically be themselves while doing the sports they love.