In her roles as Deputy Head of the Supreme Organising Committee at the Arab Women Sports Tournament (AWST), Head of the Executive Committee and Director General of Sharjah Women’s Sports (SWS) HE Nada Askar Al Naqbi, is committed to providing greater opportunities to women in sports.
A subject that has traditionally been a taboo, today Emirati women are taking part and competing in international sports in a greater way than ever. The recent Arab Women Sport Tournament which took place in Sharjah, saw more women participating than ever before and highlighted the growing importance of sport in local women’s lives today. As she strives to create more acceptance for Arab women in this field we discuss the crucial role that sport is playing.
How do you think women feel empowered by the work Sharjah Women’s Sports is doing?
SWS has been a huge factor in growing a generation of Emirati women who would become leaders in the world of sport. It has not only empowered young athletes in their sporting endeavours and given them the opportunity to practice whatever sport they like, but it has also created an integrated system to promote women’s sport in the region, leading to the formation of several competitive teams that participate in tournaments at local, regional and international levels.
As part of their efforts to promote women’s sports, SWS organises various events across a variety of sports to provide a platform for athletes to showcase their skills. This includes the biennial Arab Women Sports Tournament (AWST), the fifth edition of which concluded recently; and the Sharjah Women’s Sports Cup, which was launched in 2014.
The series of regional and international tournaments go a long way in not just elevating the stature of women in sports locally but also provides them with a professional platform to showcase their skills regionally and globally. It also helps them tap into their true potential by supporting them throughout the process of training, preparation and competition. SWS seeks to drive social development through sports, grow the capabilities of local sportswomen and forge effective partnerships with various international sports organisations.
SWS also goes the extra mile to help female athletes shape their sporting careers. The ‘Sports Future Pioneers’, a first-of-its-kind diploma in the region, launched last year, is one such. The initiative which seeks to develop the leadership skills of sportswomen to empower their participation in developing and shaping the local sports sector aligns with the directives of Her Highness Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, Wife of His Highness the Ruler of Sharjah, and Chairperson of SWS.
What do you hope to achieve through the Arab Women Sport Tournament?
Ever since AWST was launched in 2012, women’s sports in the region has been at a turning point. It is a big step forward in Sharjah’s long- term goal of building a platform for Arab sportswomen that will allow them to graduate to the highest level and excel in the international arena. The event has served to break down the barriers that were preventing women from entering the field of sports and creating a pathway for Arab women athletes to succeed at the international level.
We are constantly evaluating how best to update the games we currently host and to explore the potential of introducing new disciplines to the tournament. With every edition, AWST has been expanding its reach and growing in stature. It has enhanced female participation in sports in the region to the extent that our sportswomen are disrupting traditional gender boundaries. The sportswomen competing are creating powerful role models for the younger generation by their professionalism and setting the stage for more girls to turn to sports as a profession.
What is the biggest achievement so far of the platform?
AWST’s greatest achievement has been to further the cause of women’s sports in the region and beyond. It has grown into an international platform, enabling high-caliber Emirati sportswomen to compete with their Arab counterparts. It also serves to present to the world a true image of the region’s sporting spirit. SWS has made great strides in developing women’s sports in the UAE and the region.
What challenges have you faced?
One of the biggest challenges we face is to change people’s mindsets around their expectations of young girls, including the view that it is not right for a girl to compete in male-dominated sports and win. Thanks to SWS’s efforts this is changing, and we are on the path to creating a gender-neutral, supportive and motivating sports environment in the UAE.
Sports is a strongly male-focused sector. How do you think the representation of women in sports in the UAE is changing this narrative?
It is an acknowledged fact that sport can be used in a powerful way of advocating social change. We have noticed that sport has contributed to changing the perceptions in the Emirati society regarding women, their roles and capabilities. The UAE government has been keen to encourage the participation of Emirati women in sports and has backed this up with considerable financial support. Greater advocacy by leaders is required to continue to drive the wider participation of women in sports. The most dif cult aspect is to convince parents that girls participation in sports is not against cultural and religious tradition and we have begun to see changes that signal the beginning of a new social order.
What is the importance of sports in a women’s life?
Sport is crucial to healthy living so it is key to our lives. Sharjah Women’s Sports has been working hard to educate communities and generations about the benefits of embracing sports not just as a hobby but as a way of life. Our mission at SWS is to offer women an enabling and nurturing environment in which to pursue sports professionally because we believe that women succeeding in sports – just like in any other field – is equally vital to a nation’s sustainable development.
What projects and initiatives does SWS have in store this year?
There are several goals we are working to achieve, which we believe will contribute to advancing women’s sports locally and across the Arab region. Our doors are open to every girl trying to realise her ambitions in the world of sports.
We are also expanding our partnerships with various local and regional sports entities including the Union of Arab National Olympic Committees, General Authority of Sports and Sharjah Sports Council. We are already in the process of putting together the strategy for the sixth edition of Arab Women’s Sport Tournament, which will be held in 2022.
What message do you have for the young generation?
Commitment and determination are key to realising your dreams… they will drive you to become better individuals and professionals to enable you to represent your country with pride wherever you go.