Arab Women Leading the Way in Sports
By: Dani Meyer/Arab America Contributing Writer
Women in the Arab world have begun making their names in sports. While women were not always commonplace in sports in the Arab world, there has recently been a rise in Arab women participating in sports. A far cry from the landscape back in 1991, when Algerian track star Hassiba Boulmerka made history by becoming the first Arab woman to win an Olympic gold medal. Her win was considered to be controversial at the time due to her having run in shorts and a tank top.
To celebrate the Arab female athletes walking the path Boulmerka paved, we’ve rounded up the athletes of today, who are leading the way for the next generation.
Farida Hisham Osman is an Egyptian competitive swimmer who specializes in butterfly and freestyle events. An All-Africa Games gold medalist and Egyptian national champion and record-holder, Osman is the fastest female swimmer in Egypt and Africa. “What drives me and just makes me really ambitious is breaking barriers,” said Osman in an event last year in Abu Dhabi.
Manal Rostom was born and raised in Kuwait, but is currently based in Egypt. She was the first hijabi Egyptian woman to be the face of Nike. She is an avid marathoner and mountaineer and aims to be the first Egyptian woman to climb Mount Everest. She was also the first woman to compete in an international marathon in her hijab. “I am a bit biased as I have always fought for the presence of Muslim, Hijabi women in sports just to demolish the negative image of Muslim women worldwide being too lazy, boring or uncool.” Manal told Emirates women in an interview.
Sarah Attar is a Saudi-American track and field athlete who competed at the 2012 Summer Olympics as one of the first two female Olympians representing Saudi Arabia. She also competed in the marathon at the 2016 Olympics.
Habiba Ghribi is a Tunisian middle- and long-distance runner who specializes in the 3000 meters steeplechase. She won the gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, giving her country its first Olympic medal by a woman.
Zahra Lari is an Emirati figure skater and the first figure skater from the United Arab Emirates to compete internationally. She is a five-time Emirati national champion. She’s also the first figure skater to compete in a hijab, making her an inspiration to both Arab and Muslim women across the globe. She is the UAE’s first figure skater to participate in the winter qualifications last year. She led the UAE’s mission to become the first Arab state to join the International Skating Union.
Noor Hussain Al-Malki is an Arab sprinter, and was a member of the Qatari Olympic Team at the 2012 Summer Olympics. By competing in London she became one of the first female athletes to represent the country at the Olympic Games.
Ruqaya Al-Ghasra is a Bahraini athlete. She was one of the first women to represent Bahrain at the Olympic Games, by taking part in the women’s 100 meters sprint at the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens. In 2006 she participated in the Asian Games in Doha and won the Women’s 200m. This was Bahrain’s first major international athletics gold medal.
Mahassen Hala was the first woman to represent Lebanon in Olympic weightlifting and in numerous other international competitions. She represented Lebanon at the 2018 Mediterranean Games and earned the first international medal for Lebanon in women’s Olympic weightlifting.
Ons Jabeur is a Tunisian professional tennis player. She has a career-high Women’s Tennis Association ranking of No. 51 in the world. In the 2020 Australian Open, Jabeur became the first Arab woman to reach a quarterfinal of a Grand Slam tournament. She is also the highest-ranked Arab player in WTA history.
Hania Fouda, an Egyptian archer who started her career in sports in 2008 when she joined Egypt archery national team. In 2010, Hania came first in the Arab championship for both senior and junior categories, and in 2014, won the gold medal in the African championship, and got 3rd place with a bronze in the African championship 2016. In the 2016 Summer Olympics Hania won third place in the women’s individual re-curve competition.
Enas Mohamed Ghareb
Enas Mohamed Ghareb, 24, is a long jumper and triple jumper from Egypt. “There are a lot of girls in Egypt that get encouragement, but as we get older, the support becomes more of an issue. Yet we go out and challenge this. We do not want to be discouraged from sports because we have grown up. Let us play until we decide to stop. There shouldn’t be any prejudice against us continuing,” Ghareb is quoted as saying, to the Financial Times.
Raneem El Welily
Raneem El Welily from Egypt has been dominating squash, both in the women and men competitions. Currently, the top 10 PSA World Ranking for women includes four Egyptian players, three of whom occupy the first three spots. Raneem El Welily holds first place, and reached a career-high world ranking of No. 1 in September 2015. She was a two-time finalist at the World Open in 2014 and 2016. She became the World Champion in 2017, after defeating fellow Egyptian Nour El Sherbini in the finals.
Ines Boubakri is a Tunisian foil fencer and a two-time Olympian. She took part in the 2012 Olympic Games in London, reaching the quarter-final. Four years later, at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro she won a bronze medal, making her the first Tunisian female to win such a medal at the Olympics.
These 14 female athletes are making strides in the Arab world – both for their athletic achievements and for paving the way for female athletes around the world. There are so many wonderful female athletes in the Arab world, and these 14 are just some of the many who are inspirational.
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