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15 May 2013
The unexpected best goalkeeper in Doha?
It is never easy to imagine a girl being named the best goalkeeper in a male tournament. It is even more difficult to imagine it on a beach soccer pitch, where strength and experience carry a lot of weight. And, if after a thorough imagination exercise one manages to picture this in his or her mind, very few would see this happening far from usual stages such as Europe or The United States?. Let?s say Qatar. But whatever difficult to imagine it might me, it definitely turns a really refreshing image when it comes true...
Jelena Otten, a Dutch ex-pat in Doha, was the one sending this enlightening, empowering and inspiring message out loud in the award ceremony of the Qatar Beach Soccer Nations Cup, held in the stadium of the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup 2013 ? AFC Qualifier Qatar last January. Being part of the Barçadoha side, Jelena?s performances left no room for doubt amongst the jury. She had been, by far, the best goalkeeper of the tournament, and obviously the fact that she was a woman could never deny it. Just another clear instance proving that women are more than ready for high-level competition?
This Qatar Beach Soccer Nations Cup, an amateur event supported by the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee and involving different teams of ex-pats and locals representing different countries and regions, gave her the opportunity to compete again after many months without having the chance to do so? And she did not hesitate a single moment. She was playing, no matter how difficult it could turn...
She struggled for her objective, knocked all doors necessary and fought all prejudices to finally earn, both inside and outside the pitch, everyone?s respect, even from those who thought it was nonsense to let her take part in such a competition.
But how does a Dutch young lady end up playing a men?s Beach Soccer tournament in Doha? Well, let?s get to know Jelena?s personal story a bit deeper?
Jelena Otten was born in Nijmegen 24 years ago, in the bosom of a football-loving family living in the heart of a football-passionate country. Guess what sport she got caught with? It was not much later that she knew she wanted to be under the crossbar? The passion for goalkeeping was inherited from his father, who was a professional goalie himself and made her ?fall in love with this job?.
If things had rolled in a different way in her life, she may have carried on with a really promising career in eleven-a-side football. Who knows... She got her story with football seriously started at High School, where she gained a place in a program by the Dutch FA (the KNVB), supported by the HVA in Amsterdam, aimed at producing and training high-performance football players. ?I was made ready for the top-level competition there. We trained for more than three hours every day, and we were also taught about nutrition, habits, together with a strong mental training?.
She was one of the elected from that school, quickly getting drafted for Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen. She played for the Superfriezen for almost two seasons, a time she remembers with delight. But elite football was not letting her concentrate her other passion, the one she wanted to make a living of: teaching. The lack of time to combine studies and top-flight football pushed her to a painful decision. If she wanted to make the most of her academic time, she had to place all her efforts in the studies. And that meant quitting football?
Little afterwards, though, fate and love brought her an unexpected turn. Her then boyfriend, (and nowadays husband), Roald Otten, was recruited for a prestigious position as a physiotherapist at the ASPIRE Academy in Doha. After necessarily spending some time apart, she could finally move to Doha with him. She got a job as a teacher in the International Dutch Programme of the Compass International School in Doha, a position she still holds today, and got married to Roald, beginning a new life in the core of the Asian Middle East.
It was not easy for such an outgoing and extroverted person to get used to life in such a different country than her home land? But she soon found her place in it and now declares herself really attracted to the possibilities Doha offers. Clearly set to ?make the most of my stay here?, she enjoys exploring all the possibilities the Qatari capital offers, and the huge lesson it is teaching her. Of course, that does not mean that she does not miss a lot some of the things she loves from her beloved Gelderland, such as the life on a bike or enjoying the countryside, but she knows there is much to explore yet, and Holland will always be there.
?At the beginning, it was difficult to me to understand the way of behaving by the people, and it took me a while getting used to the clothing, the proper way to approach people? But I did it, and it feels really good to see how this culture opens your eyes and widens your view. It teaches you a lot on respect, and this is something really important in life?.
Curiously enough, this same lesson is the one she both took and gave. It was precisely what she learnt in Doha and what she taught on the pitch: prejudices, both in life and sport, will never take you any far, will never make you any wise, and will never let you appreciate and enjoy all that you still don?t know.