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Paving the Way — Getting to Know Ainhoa Tirapu

Goalkeepers are different — so said British author Brian Glanville. It is a unique position on the football pitch. At once, completely alone, and yet surrounded on all sides by watchful eyes. It’s a position that requires a strong mental fortitude — to carry the weight of the team on your back, knowing that one simple mistake could cost the game.

For Ainhoa Tirapu, it is her position. She thrives under the pressure and feels at home nowhere more than patrolling the 18-yard box, barking orders at her defence. While she may be isolated on the pitch, she never loses the feeling that she is part of the team — win or lose, clean sheet or a day spent picking the ball out of her own net; they are in it all together.

Over the course of her 14-year footballing career, she has built up an impressive resume. She has won the Spanish Primera Division twice, represented her country at both the European Championship and the World Cup, and captained Athletic Bilbao for many years.

Certainly a career to be proud of — made all the more remarkable by the fact that being a top footballer was only one of the many things Ainhoa has accomplished over the past decade. After working at Decathlon for many years in the beginning of her career, she went back to school and completed her Master’s in Environmental Toxicology at the University of the Basque Country, graduating in 2012.

Upon completing her Masters, she was left with the choice: continue with her studies and pursue a PhD, or commit herself to football full-time. The time when she could balance both pursuits, splitting her days between the lab and the pitch, was over. She had to make a decision, and ultimately her choice was football.

Ainhoa and Common Goal Chairwoman Moya Dodd

Her career has also coincided with a dramatic transformation in the women’s game, in the world at large, and also in her native Spain. It has professionalised. Where once players were employed under part-time contracts or in roles that obfuscated their true positions; they are now increasingly contracted full time, and given the recognition as players that they deserve.

One anecdote sticks in her mind: in 2012, at the club’s Christmas dinner, Athletic President, Josu Urrutia, celebrated the fact that club had been runners up four times that year — referring to both the men’s and the women’s team. While it might seem trivial to some, for Ainhoa it was proof enough. Proof that at Athletic, her and her teammates were looked at with just the same respect as their male counterparts.

Unfortunately, this is not the story everywhere, with some of the world’s biggest football clubs continuing to turn a blind eye to what has become one of the fastest growing parts of the game. On this subject, Ainhoa was once asked: why does a global megaclub, such as Real Madrid, need to concern itself with the women’s game?

For Ainhoa the answer was simple; when women can make up 50% of a club’s fans, what sort of message are you sending them by ignoring one half of the game? Why should young boys be able to look out onto the pitch and dream of one day joining their heroes, pulling on the colours of their favourite team and young girls be denied this very same dream?

This passion of hers — to see young women flourish through the beautiful game — is part of what drove her to join Common Goal. To help not just girls in her local Spain, or even across Europe, but to help them across the world.

Common Goal has brought together Ainhoa and the Indian football for good organisation Yuwa. Using football as a platform, Yuwa helps empower some of the most vulnerable girls in rural India, building their confidence and teaching them valuable life skills. It is a cause Ainhoa is extremely passionate about, and an organisation she is proud to support.

On the whole, she is hopeful. She knows that positive change is coming for girls and young women worldwide. Just as she has seen development over the past ten years, she knows the next decade will bring the same level of growth. She wants to see girls and young women have the same opportunity she has had: to change their lives through the power of football.

Common Goal is uniting the football community in tackling the greatest social challenges of our time. And we can use your help. Join the team at www.common-goal.org

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