QATAR’S tally of two silver medals at the just-concluded Paralympics in Rio is indeed an incredible achievement, with shot putter Sarah Masoud providing the icing on the cake by becoming the country’s first-ever female medallist. Abdulrahman Abdulqader, in men’s shot put, was the other Qatari who made it to the podium, but it’s Sarah’s feat that should be more inspiring for many reasons.
It was 32 years ago that Moroccan Nawal El Moutawakel became the first Arab-African Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Since then, there’ve been several successful Muslim women at the Olympics. Yet, every four years, the media would talk about the presence of Muslim sportswomen, especially Arab, as if they’re a new tribe!
I remember, just before the London Olympics in 2012, the media highlighting participation of women for the first time from Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Even the International Olympic Committee proclaimed it as “a major boost for gender equality”. But I’m very disappointed to say that such symbolic exercises are simply not enough to do justice to our women.
If we had fielded four women at the London Games, we could send only two to Rio. We talk about dress code, head scarves etc, but forget the primary duty of organising competitions for our girls or even attracting them to venues. As a first step, all national sports federations should set up their own women’s wing with separate training facilities.
The Qatar Women’s Sport Committee could be the umbrella organisation for nation-wide co-ordination. There’re many disciplines, like archery, shooting, fencing and table tennis, which can be pursued by our women even without making any compromise on their Islamic way of life.
To increase our women’s participation in future, I think we should focus more on such disciplines. We should, in fact, set up special academies for women, focusing on these sports. We should also involve some of our former inspirational sportswomen, like two-time Asian Games archer Nada Zeidan, in such projects.
If we go about it in a professional manner, I’m sure, by 2024 Olympics, we can field more women who could, perhaps, even challenge the best in the world. I hope the Qatar Olympic Committee will get inspired by Sarah’s exploits and take early steps to promote women’s sports more aggressively in our country.