Egyptian soccer superstar Mohamed Salah has called on men in his country and across the Muslim world to treat women with more respect.
In an interview with TIME, the Liverpool striker spoke frankly for the first time about the importance of women’s equality. “I think we need to change the way we treat women in our culture,” Salah said. “It’s not optional.”
He said seeing how women were treated “in my culture and in the Middle East” had changed the way he thought about gender relations. “I support the woman more than I did before, because I feel like she deserves more than what they give her now, at the moment.”
After leading his country to the FIFA World Cup in 2018 for the first time in 28 years, Salah has become an icon in Egypt and across the region. In the interview, he said soccer fans in the Middle East “feel like I’m their son.”
Salah, 26, admitted there was a “little bit of pressure” that came with being a role model, but also that it made him “proud” and pushed him to be a better soccer player. “To be the first Egyptian in [this] situation and no one has done this before … it’s something different,” he said.
His favorite way to unwind after a game, he said, is spending time with his 5-year-old daughter, and being one of the top players in world football hasn’t changed his lifestyle. “I just live my life normal,” he said. “Most of the time I stay at home, I don’t like to go out.”
Salah was named in the 2019 TIME 100 list of the world’s most influential people, and appears on one of the issue’s six covers. Inside, Liverpool fan and HBO star John Oliver pays tribute to the soccer player as an “iconic figure for Egyptians, Scousers and Muslims the world over.”