Khartoum Offside (2019) - وفسايد الخرطوم

‘Khartoum Offside’ (2019) intimate but confusing

Khartoum Offside is Writer-Director Marwa Zein’s first feature length film and has won a number of awards. I just don’t know enough about the film industry to understand why.

The Story

From 2014-2018, Marwa Zein filmed a group of women who were trying to play football in Sudan. As Zein’s opening title points out, under Sudan’s strict Islamic rule, women were not allowed to play football nor make movies. But she and the players prevailed.

Zein focuses on player-coach Sarah Jubara to show what it takes for women to play football in that environment. You might get flogged 40 lashes for playing in public or with men. Your uncle might drag you out of a game. And while the Sudanese Federation receives FIFA money to support women’s development, none of these funds trickle down to the female footballers. Sarah is told to wait for the next Federation election. The gals must take up a collection to rent the small turf field on which they play.

Sarah urges the women to be strong enough to play in public, and to aspire to play for a non-existent Sudanese National Team that travels abroad to compete. (In 2016, Sarah Jubara herself had traveled to play in Germany, representing Sudan.) The women stand outside the Federation election hall to support their preferred candidates to head the Women’s Football Committee. But female incumbent Mervat Hussein remains in charge, implying no hope for change.

Despite this setback, at the end of the documentary the women are shown playing in public, in long pants and with small head coverings, in front of a  crowd of maybe 50 male and female fans.

So much unsaid

Starting in 2014, it took Zein 4.5 years to create the film, and the first 1.5 years were needed to build trust with the players and their families. That trust enabled her to capture intimacies and frustrations beyond the soccer field, including aspects that she herself experiences as a Sudanese-Egyptian. If you’re black, are you an Arab? If you fled the wars in South Sudan, why are you not treated as Sudanese? If you’re female or if it’s not clear you’re female, why are you harassed by men?

While Zein captured emotions well, the problem I had with this film is that it doesn’t provide any context nor any explanation of anything. I couldn’t figure out the time frame, what kind of support the women had, or how they could afford to play, either mentally or financially. It wasn’t clear how Sarah made a living, what was her relationship to the Federation, or even whether or not she was really the coach, as a male seemed to be in charge of some practices.

There were also scenes that were completely unexplained and seemingly irrelevant, such as when a few players went looking to rent a stall situated in an open marketplace. Zein also fought her funders to include an intimate scene consisting of extreme closeups of the skin of an anonymous bare-breasted couple. It was meant to say, if we just look at these bodies, maybe we don’t see the differences between a man and woman. But without knowing that beforehand, I felt such a message was well-meaning but incoherent.

While it was interesting to learn about Sudan, my constant confusion during this film meant that I could not enjoy it.

The aftermath

Khartoum Offside premiered just a few months before the Sudanese Revolution forced the government to transition. By the end of 2019, not only were women allowed to play football in public, but Federation official Mervat Hussein had organized a Sudanese Womens League. At least 3 of Sarah’s players, Fatima Gadal, Elham Balatone, and Nedal Fadlallah, joined teams in the league. The league is still operating, and in 2021, a Womens National Team was founded. The WNT competed in the Sep-2021 Arab Women’s Cup, where they were outscored 27-2 over 3 games.

Sarah Jubara ended up in France, where in 2022 she was coaching youth teams at Club Sportif de Port-Marly via Kabubu, an organization that works with refugees through sport.

In Conclusion

A movie like this opens your eyes about a country where people live in shacks with cloth roofs, and they cook, eat, and sleep on dirt floors. But at the same time, everyone has a cell phone and wears replica jerseys for FC Barcelona or Thierry Henry. Women must act a certain way or be harassed. FIFA sends development money to these areas for football, but it disappears like water droplets in a desert. Just as in the film Coach Zoran, about the nascent South Sudanese mens team, it feels like FIFA contributes to the world’s problems.

6 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 6


  • Released: 2019-02-13 (Berlin)
  • Title in Arabic is وفسايد الخرطوم
  • In Arabic with English sub-titles
  • 1 hour 15 minutes
  • I watched this on Kanopy
  • IMDB
  • Director: Marwa Zein
  • Stars: Sarah Jubara
  • Watch the Trailer
  • Website