Published on November 18, 2013 | by Keelesh Bokhoory0
Female footballer trying to put Mauritus on the sporting map
Talented female footballer Riana Soobadoo has high hopes of hitting the big time after securing a football scholarship to America where she plays as a central midfielder for St Edward’s University, Texas.
The Londoner, of Mauritian descent, wants to follow in the footsteps of other athletes from the small island, situated off the East coast of Africa.
Mauritius is famous for hotels and beaches, popular with celebrity guests but the small island in the Indian Ocean has yet to feature prominently in major sporting events, despite its residents’ passion for sport.
Football, boxing and athletics are avidly followed, with the most high profile athlete in recent years being 2008 Beijing Olympian, Bruno Julie and Soobadoo hopes to be the next Mauritian to reach the peak of her sport.
The 21-year-old came to the attention of the Texan team after playing for prominent teams such as Arsenal, Tottenham, Leyton Orient and Barnet before making her move to her current base in Austin, Texas two years ago.
“The move here was a dream, I felt very fortunate for this opportunity,” said Soobadoo who competed in her first trial for Arsenal when only nine-years-old. “I was nervous due to the fact it was a new country, but at the same time I was excited for the new challenge ahead.”
When asked how long it took to adapt to life in the southern state the young midfielder said: “It took me about two months to adapt to everything. It does sound surprisingly quick, bearing in mind I had a lot to adapt to such as the weather, food, lifestyle and in terms of football, the training routines and formations.”
However, there has been one aspect of her new life that she has struggled with: “Usually, we would have to wake up around 5:30-6:00am for training, which was difficult to get used to as many of my family and friends know that I am not a morning person.”
But before trying to grasp the American way of life, the most important thing was to secure the scholarship. In terms of the scholarship Soobadoo mentioned there was a particular process she had to go through in order to be spotted: “I joined a scholar agency and they send you to soccer camps to play, where you are being watched by various coaches from different universities, you are also filmed as well and those videos can be sent to other universities.”
Her popularity was evident as she received offers from numerous schools: “I received about eight responses from various universities, which I found quite phenomenal as I felt I didn’t play my best football on the day.”
It could have all been very much different for Soobadoo as she headed for the sandy beaches of Florida at St. Leo’s University, where she felt she was going to end up.
“I had my heart set on Florida, but it was the persistence of St. Edwards that attracted me to play for them. I think another attraction was how St. Ed’s coach, Nick Cowell, knew what he was talking about in terms of what he knew of other teams and most importantly how he’ll develop my game and what best suits me, even if I wasn’t going to join St. Edwards.”
Life seems too good for Soobadoo and the move to Texas has worked out so far as she’s playing for a team who have just become Heartland Conference champions, only conceding three goals all season and have made history by becoming the first St Edwards women’s team to go a whole season unbeaten.
It has been a long journey to get this far though, and Soobadoo felt her early life at Arsenal has contributed significantly to her latest achievement of regional champion.
“My time at Arsenal was my first big experience of football, especially playing for a proper girls team as in the past I used to play with a mixture of boys and girls”.
But her time at Arsenal also had its frustrations: “I think the only downside at Arsenal was when I got to the under-14’s, I was being played out of position. They would play me wide right, even though I was a centre midfielder, but despite that the main factor for me was just playing.”
After a good two-year spell at Arsenal, she was then released due to her lack of height, which could now be perceived as a lack of judgement considering how much she has achieved already in her footballing life.
Things turned around as she went on to play for and captain Leyton Orient ladies from 2004 to 2008, at under-14’s and 16’s level. But playing for Leyton Orient wasn’t enough football for the young star: “Because I loved playing football so much, I decided to play for Spurs as well, which in turn made my Tottenham side of the family happy, but I then had to stop because I didn’t want to get burnt out.”
After a very successful four years at Orient, she made the step up to join Barnet Ladies FC who played football in the FA Tesco Women’s First Division.
Her football talent was evident, as she became Barnet’s youngest player to play for the first team at the age of 16. If that was not enough, she scored a hat-trick on her debut against Leicester City and in that same year she represented England ladies at under-16 level.
Even though her time at Barnet may seem successful, Soobadoo thinks otherwise: “My time at Barnet was frustrating. My first year was good, but as time went on the coach lost interest in me, which made me lose a lot of confidence. There were times where I didn’t want to go training at all and this could have potentially ruined my career.”
Soobadoo was busy off the pitch too, as she was selected to participate in an FA programme in South Africa as part of the ‘FA Young Leaders’ programme in conjunction with the ‘Coaching for Hope Charity’ for a World Cup project. The trip involved coaching school kids in townships of Johannesburg and Cape Town, with the focus being to encourage women in South Africa to get involved with football.
“It was so inspiring and a huge learning curve for me and makes you appreciate the little things we take for granted everyday. Small things like, having cones and bibs for training. Back home we would complain when the bibs smell, when in fact, over there they don’t even know what bibs are!” she explained.
When asked about her thoughts on sport in Mauritius, which only has a handful of athletes to have made it on the world stage, Soobadoo insisted it was down to the country as a whole to help sport thrive.
“I think what needs to be done in Mauritius is people need to show more interest in sport, especially people higher up such as the government or athletes who have represented the country already. What would be an idea is to try and run volunteer programmes, which could take place in small towns of Mauritius to get people more involved, especially kids.”
However, as the island is so small, certain problems are always going to arise: “Obviously we are not a big country compared to others, so funding is always going to be an issue as we have to hold back on other things for the country. This also has a connection to space and facilities but the main issue is definitely family as many Mauritian parents have old fashioned mind-sets, feel getting a good education and job is more important than playing sport,” said Soobadoo.
For now Mauritius will remain one of the greatest holiday destinations with its sandy beaches and beautiful sunshine, but with more people breaking the mould and bucking the trend like Soobadoo, then perhaps one day Mauritius can produce more successful athletes to go with those award-winning hotels.