Zainab Alema on tackling representation in rugby

2 min read
Tuesday, 1 August 2023

Rugby, representation, and releasing stress. There are many reasons to move, and No Woman No Try star, Zainab Alema, is tackling them all on her journey to be a part of the Red Roses England Rugby squad.

Both on and off the pitch, this bulldozing British-Ghanaian Muslim is putting every effort in to inspire more underrepresented athletes to start in sport.


Moving to get the best out of life

“I’m Zainab Alema. I go by Zee, or The Bulldozer. I’m a rugby player and I play championship rugby for Richmond Women.

“For me, I know that after movement I always feel a lot better. It helps regulate my feelings and it relieves stress – that’s a big one.

"Being a mother of three and having previously worked as a nurse, that can be a lot. Moving helps me get rid of any stressful energy.

“You only get one body and you have to take care of it. You have to be kind to it so that you can get the best out of life. That’s always my motivation when it comes to the basics of physical activity.”

Overcoming barriers to entry in rugby

“Playing rugby’s definitely my favourite way to move. Rugby’s my sport. I love the physicality – 100%. I love running through people, tackling, defending…

"The fact that it’s a team sport, I love that everyone is trying to win a game together. It’s kind of like going to war with your friends, and I love that sense of community.

Zainab Alema rugby player in the gym

“Being a Muslim woman, kit and clothing has definitely been a barrier to movement in the past. Especially wearing a hijab to play.

"Initially I was wearing a normal hijab, but investing in a sports hijab transformed not just my confidence but the way I played.

"Now I can play knowing that it doesn’t get in the way of me and my sport.”

Road to Red Roses: the first Muslim woman to play rugby for England

“I want to be the first Muslim woman to play rugby for England. I’m on that journey now – it’s called road to Red Roses – Red Roses is the England women’s team and I’m doing whatever I can to get there.

“I’m training really hard and aligning myself with people that can help on this journey. I want to inspire people and help people to believe in themselves and to go for what their passions and their goals are. That’s the main reason why I’m doing this and I’m enjoying every part of the journey.

Rugby player Zainab Alema in a cycle studio class

“For me, I stay motivated by knowing how much of an impact I could have on other people’s lives by just being active and staying within my sport.

"With my identity, there’s not many people like me in rugby and I know that, by staying in the space, it’ll open the door for other people to realise that they can play rugby or be active, too.

“It’s all about representation. I know that there have been times where I didn’t see many people that represented me in the fitness industry or rugby.

"Hopefully when people see me, I can help as a source of inspiration for people to stay active or to join a sport.”

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