These amazing women are helping to even the score

An annual sports conference is set to inspire the next generation of young women to hit greater heights in sport

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When considering her legacy, US tennis player Serena Williams once said: “The success of every woman should be the inspiration to another.”

That’s not to say that there are no barriers left to break and hurdles to overcome,
but across the world, and here in the UAE, more and more women are taking on
new challenges.

Helping to empower women in the UAE to make their own mark in the world of sport, the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW) is returning for its fourth edition on 6th and 7th November.

Inspiring generations

An initiative of the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA), ICSW sets out to promote sports and sporting culture to become part of the everyday lives of women.

But it’s not just about getting healthy; the event seeks to help break down the barriers that still exist and empower young women to set ambitious goals for themselves in the world of sport.

Heading to the capital to participate in the event are a number of inspirational and leading athletes who will share their stories and experiences, debate issues
and more.

The two-day event, held under the theme of ‘inspiring generations’, will feature speeches from HRH princess Haya Bint Al Hussein and Special Olympics athlete Loretta Claiborne, among others.

Six dedicated panels will also take place, featuring figure skater Michelle Kwan, Olympic swimmer Samar Nassar and more, covering issues including the media, role models and empowerment.

Additionally, eight workshops will address a number of topics including inspiring behavioural change, sports photography, the evolution of the Special Olympics and more.

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required to attend and is given on a first come, first served basis.

For more information and the full schedule of events, visit: fbma.ae

Laying the foundation

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Female sports have come a long way in the past few years, allowing a new generation of young women in the UAE to excel and participate in sport on the global stage.

But the opportunities that young female athletes enjoy now are a large part due to the hard work, determination and efforts of past generations who helped lay the groundwork for what is possible today.

Hosting a workshop at ICSW to share her story, Emirati footballer and coach Houriya Taheri has helped to develop a football culture among women in the UAE.

The former goalkeeper is the first Arab woman to receive a professional coaching licence and is the current UAE Women’s National Team assistant coach, helping to drive younger players to achieve more than she could on the pitch.

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“Our strategy now is to develop women’s sport in the UAE to become one of the world’s best,” Houriya tells us.

“When I was young, I never met women here who were playing football; I started playing at home with my brothers.

“When I started it was just seven girls, for the whole of the UAE, and now there’s over 2,000 playing football. It has been a huge change and a positive change.”

The lack of a women’s national team stood in the way of Houriya reaching her goals, but instead of giving up when facing a glass ceiling, she turned to coaching, earning her A, B and C licences from the FIFA’s Asian Football Confederation.

Helping to develop the women’s game in the UAE, the sport has grown significantly in the past few years, with eight league clubs and dedicated training centres now established.

And with more opportunities now available to young people, Houriya believes that Emirati women can push to become leaders in sports on the global stage.

“This new generation, I think they are lucky. I wish that I was one of them and
I had the opportunities that they have,” notes Houriya.

“The UAE is one of the best countries to participate in sport and achievement for the country will come only with hard work.

“We are a new country in terms of sport but we are not far from achieving great things. I believe that if we continue to work hard, the results will follow.”

Reaching new heights

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Leading the way for young women and the UAE, one young Emirati arguably personifies the nation’s growth and indomitable spirit more than any other.

Three-time UAE national figure skating champion Zahra Lari began skating at the age of eleven, something that was relatively unheard of at the time. Zahra is already an icon for being the first international-level skater to compete in a hijab. It hasn’t been an easy road for Zahra but she’s certainly helped pave the way for others.

“When I was young, the number of girls participating in sports in general was very low,” Zahra explains.

“When I started skating we didn’t have any UAE nationals doing the sport, at all. It was just me. But now it’s changed because you see girls doing every sport you can imagine and they’re able to do it at the highest level.”

ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES -April 24, 2015: Zahra Lari.

Participating in a panel at ICSW, Zahra will share her story and her thoughts on how female participation in sport has changed during her time on the ice.

“I’m going to talk mostly about my story, the struggles, the barriers and everything I had to go through. Basically, the process of how I got to where I am today,” Zahra explains.

“I am very proud and honoured to be able to inspire other girls to accomplish their dreams and goals. I like to share my thoughts and my experiences when I get the opportunity and I hope that others can be inspired or take motivation from it.”

Even at the tender age of 22, she’s become something of a role model for young girls, and is passionate about encouraging young women to participate in sport in general, not just skating.

“Don’t be afraid to try something; you’ve got nothing to lose,” advises Zahra.

“Give it 100 percent. You learn a lot of lessons; you learn to not give up. You’ll fall but you pick yourself up and keep trying.

“You learn time management, dedication, focus and determination. All of these things gained from sport are important and improve your life.

“Go out there and try things and you might find a passion that will stick with you for life.”

Need to know 

What: International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW)
Where: ADNEC, off Al Khaleej Al Arabi Street
When: 6th-7th Nov, 8am-6pm
Cost: Free, but registration required
Contact: icsw.enquiries@fbma.ae, fbma.ae

WORDS Colin Armstrong

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