x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

The women's majlis: Putting fight into women's sport

What do you think about the level of sport for women in the UAE? Would you do anything to change it?

Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be debated on by a series of female Emirati columnists. This month, we ask Samira Murshed Al Romaithi:

What do you think about the level of sport for women in the UAE? Would you do anything to change it?

It's been inspiring to see the tremendous growth in the past five years of the number of Emirati women taking up sports. Not just any sports, I might add, but sports that may have traditionally been "taboo", such as weightlifting, ice hockey, judo, shooting, football and, my personal favourite: jiu-jitsu.

I first started training four and a half years ago; jiu-jitsu not only made me more physically fit but I also found myself more focused, more motivated and more confident. It was my first fight during training that made me fall in love with the sport; this was the turning point that made me put in the extra effort and led me to set myself the goal of entering my first competition abroad, where I won a bronze medal.

Jiu-jitsu was first introduced to the UAE in the late 1990s by Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed, who is affectionately referred to by athletes as the "Godfather of UAE jiu-jitsu". Following on from this, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, also became interested in the sport, and this had a big effect on its development here in the UAE. It was his vision and involvement that led to the creation of the UAE jiu-jitsu school programme in 2008.

Back when I started, though, there were only a handful of other women who were regularly training and competing in jiu-jitsu. Since then, the number of ladies taking it up has been increasing year on year, and we also see great turnout at local tournaments.

The rise in popularity of jiu-jitsu and other sports among women in the UAE is credited to the country's visionary leadership, who have not only provided continuous support, with an array of different training opportunities and top-notch facilities, but who also consistently provide encouragement to all athletes, especially women and children.

In April, we saw the second International Conference on Sports for Women, held under the patronage of Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. The main objective of the conference was to understand and discuss the barriers women may face in sports, and to be a driver of transformation within the area of the development of female athletes to compete both locally and internationally.

Thanks to conferences such as this one, and the fact that we already have so many great female Emirati role models in the field of sport, we can look forward to an emergence of an even greater wealth of Emirati sportswomen in the coming years.

The UAE's female athletes are already a huge source of national pride for us, and I am confident that they will continue to make their mark on the world with their sporting achievements.

Samira Murshed Al Romaithi is a jiu-jitsu athlete and board member of the UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation

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