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Nov 26 - Dec 8, 2019
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Qatari women athletes march steadily onward

Qatar Women’s Sport Committee (QWSC) president Lolwa Hussain Al Marri says the federation is working with both elite athletes and members of the publi
Lolwa Hussain Al Marri 2
Lolwa Hussain Al Marri IQ Photo: Vinod Divakaran

Qatar made a statement of intent during the 2012 London Olympic Games by fielding three women athletes – swimmer Nada Arkaji, shooter Bahiya Mansour Al Hamad and sprinter Noor Hussain Al Malki – for the first time.

They then drove home the point by choosing Bahiya as their flag bearer during the opening ceremony at the Olympic Stadium in the British capital.

At the 2016 Rio Games too Qatar fielded two women – Arkaji and runner Dalal Al Harthi. And with the Tokyo Olympics just a year away, the country is once again expected to field at least a few women at the Games.

One of the reasons for this positive change is the Qatar Women’s Sport Committee (QWSC), which has been silently working in the background to empower Qatari sportswomen.

QWSC President Lolwa Hussain Al Marri spoke to Inside Qatar about their programmes and plans for the future.
Excerpts.

What are the current activities of the QWSC?

The QWSC, since its establishment in 2000 until about two years ago, has been focused more on setting up and building various national teams. However, from 2017 we’ve started to do a lot more community events. Now, we organise fitness programmes, yoga classes and educational sessions for children and women.

Is the QWSC collaborating with various national sports federations to help grow women’s sport?

In elite sports, we focus only on six disciplines – football, handball, basketball, volleyball, table tennis and athletics – by associating closely with their respective national federations.

We’ve a strong working relationship with them as well as the Qatar Olympic Committee. Technical experts and coaches from these sports bodies work closely with our teams and continuously monitor their progress.

Once we choose competitions we want to take part in, national federations take care of all administrative procedures associated with them.

What are the different national teams doing now? What are their plans?

All our athletes are currently out of Qatar, in training camps, in preparation for the upcoming GCC Women’s Games in Kuwait in October. There will be competitions in 13 disciplines.

We had emerged champions when Qatar hosted the event last time in 2017. Our first aim will be to defend our title. Our players are capable, and they’re working hard.

How many Qatari girls do you expect to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Games?

The Olympic qualification process is challenging. We’re only taking baby steps towards that dream. Unlike a nation like, say China, we’re very small both in terms of geographical size and population. Hence, Olympic participation is tough for us. But like in London and Rio, we’re hoping to send a few two girls to Tokyo too.

What are the challenges faced by the QWSC and how are you working towards addressing them?

The challenge we face – retaining women in active sports beyond a certain age – isn’t unique to us, but it is common everywhere around the world. While some go on for higher studies at foreign universities, others retire post marriage.

We’re trying to convince parents to send their daughters for training even after graduation. But at the same time, if they’re keen to pursue higher studies, we cannot stop them.

The QWSC came into existence in 2000. How much have things changed since then?

Things have surely changed a lot for the better. Now, organising a women’s competition in Qatar is more open and far simpler. You’ll see husbands cheering for their wives and parents rooting for their daughters during matches. Some parents even travel with the team abroad to be a part of their daughters’ progress. The mentality of Qataris towards women’s sport has undergone a generational change.

Has the Qatar Olympic Committee’s Schools Olympic Programme (SOP) helped in any way?

Yes, it’s been a big help, just like the annual National Sports Day (NSD), held on the second Tuesday of every February.

We work closely with the SOP, and our coaches attend almost all competitions in different disciplines. We’ve been able to unearth new talents consistently.

Every year, we organise one-day festivals for football and handball, featuring students from all major girls’ schools in the country. We keenly observe their athletic prowess during these informal competitions and shortlist talented kids for further training and selection to the national teams.

During NSD, we open our facilities to all so that girls can come in and try out different sports. We’ve found there’s always a significant surge in the number of sign-ups to our programmes post NSD. That’s a good thing.

Qatari girls are now taking part in individual events like tennis, chess and rowing. Are these sports becoming more popular?

The women’s chess programme has been around for a long time. The same is the case for tennis and rowing. However, Qatari media has so far been focusing more on team events than individual disciplines. Perhaps, a shift in their focus could be the reason why more girls are now coming into the spotlight.

What are the QWSC’s immediate aims and objectives?

Our aim has always been to help our women athletes gain more experience and medals at international competitions, be it at the Gulf, Arab or Asian levels.

Our dream was to see Qatari girls taking part in the Olympics. We’ve achieved that. Next, we want them to win medals at the quadrennial Games, but that isn’t easy. However, we’ll never stop working towards achieving this goal.