Turkish teen handball player told she can't wear shorts, play with boys

Thirteen-year-old Merve Akpınar from southeastern Turkey said that she was told she couldn't wear shorts or play on the boys' team in her hometown of Şanlıurfa during a visit to the capital Ankara as a guest of the Turkish Handball Federation. Akpınar said that she made a promise to herself to change conditions for other girls in her village.

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Teen handball player Merve Akpınar said that she was ostracized by the community as a beginner, being told that she couldn't wear shorts or play with boys because she was a girl, she said during a visit to the capital as a guest of the Turkish Handball Federation. 

From southeastern Şanlıurfa, Akpınar started playing the sport on a dirt field where they would have to play under the scorching sun, she told Demirören News Agency.

"They cast me out when I first started out by saying I couldn't wear shorts or play with boys because I was a girl," Akpınar said. "That's when I made a promise to myself that I would change the fate of girls in my village."

Akpınar's critics now praise her for her ability in the sport, she said, even trying to encourage their own daughters to play the sports.

"They tell their kids 'Look at her, she's traveling all around, you're just walking around idly, she's going to be more successful than you,'" Akpınar said. 

The teen player also praised the field that she got to play on in Ankara, noting that she wouldn't have been able to wear the protective gear she wore in the capital in her hometown, as the sun would make it feel too hot. 

"This field is made out of wood, that field was just sand. I had to go through that to make it here, so I did," Akpınar said. 

The teen player dreams of becoming a brain surgeon or a police officer, but wants to continue playing handball on the side, she said, adding that her favorite pass-time on her tours is reading, most recently the classical novel Anna Karenina.

Turkey's Fenerbahçe Sports Club was among multiple organizations that  spoke out in support of the teen player as her interview circulated social media.

"You are the hope of all young girls in Turkey. We stand with you and all the girls you inspire," Fenerbahçe wrote in a tweet on July 5.

"You've been a hope to all young girls with your courage and ambition. We stand with you," wrote the Beşiktaş Sports Club in a tweet.