A charity which encourages Muslim women to get involved in sport received a visit from two Lionesses.

Beth Mead and Rachel Yankey – current and former Arsenal and England footballers – went to the Muslimah Sports Association (MSA) in an event promoting the Nike Pro Hijab 2.0.

The global brand has been working with the FA to distribute the sports hijabs to Muslim women in London to try to encourage their participation in the sport.

Beth and Rachel met more than 30 MSA members at Frenford Clubs in Ilford earlier this month and had a kickaround.

Yashmin Harun BEM, chair and founder of MSA, said that the women were “really chuffed” with the visit and that their WhatsApp group was “buzzing all evening”.

“Some of our younger players who had training sessions before that, they all went home and came back to try and get photos with them as well, so that was good,” she said.

Yashmin told the Recorder that the ladies “really appreciated” the creation of a product to engage Muslim women, but added that they had “given some feedback to improve the design a little bit”.

The MSA is a multi-sport organisation which attempts to encourage ethnically diverse women, especially Muslim women, to get more involved with sport.

The group started with basketball in 2014, but struggled to find a coach for a planned football team.

They worked with London Sport, Essex FA, and Vision Redbridge Culture and Leisure to organise a tailored course to encourage more women from their communities to become coaches.

The course was delivered at a mosque in Barking, with 16 women receiving their FA Level 1 training.

They began giving football training at the mosque but quickly outgrew the space and moved onto Loxford Leisure Centre, with a group of 25 to 30 women.

After two years it was suggested that they join a women’s league at Mabley Green, Hackney, and the organisation partnered with Frenford Clubs to organise a team.

Yashmin recalled: “They were really scared, really anxious about wearing the hijab and playing outdoor football, because they didn’t really have experience playing competitive football.

“We had five girls commit, we didn’t have any subs or anything because they were all so anxious. But once they started playing, they really enjoyed it.

“The league was really welcoming, they loved the atmosphere, the environment. And then we got more and more ladies signing up.”

Women come in from all over east London to play with the group, including from Camden and Islington.

A recent Sports England survey found that Muslim women in London have some of the highest inactivity rates and Yashmin said it is vital to understand why.

Coaches, she said, “need to be understanding of the culture that they are engaging with and the communities that they are engaging with as well.”

The MSA offer their sessions from 7pm onwards to support members with children.

“What we’ve done is taken the sport to them, rather than expecting them to come to us,” said Yashmin.

“It’s a social engagement as well as the activity, so while they’re getting fit they are also having that social engagement with all the other ladies.

“Those that want to play more competitively they have that option, but if you want to play more socially, you’re also able to do that as well.”

But she revealed that the MSA is struggling to cover costs while keeping sessions affordable for members.

Yashmin said a lot of their usual venues did not re-open after Covid and those that did increased prices.

She also claimed that many of the grants the group receives for funding have dried up.

“We are going to struggle from September,” she said.