Second Arab Women Sports Tournament to be held in the emirate is the largest of its kind and will only get bigger, writes Ali Khaled.
Fair play to Sharjah’s vision of organising all-women’s games
It may not host the glamour sporting events that Dubai and Abu Dhabi do, but Sharjah is home to one progressive competition not even their southern neighbours can claim.
Last night saw the opening ceremony of the second Arab Women Sports Tournament (AWST) 2014, the biggest event of its kind in the Arab world.
Around 900 athletes from 14 Arab countries – made up of the UAE, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Egypt, and Yemen – will take part in seven disciplines, hosted at nine different venues across the emirate.
Basketball is first off the mark, followed by volleyball, table teams, fencing, shooting, and athletics.
The archery teams, scheduled to land in the UAE tomorrow, will be the last to begin competing.
Most of the athletes are ready and waiting. “We’ve stepped up our training in recent weeks,” Alia Nasser, of the Sharjah Ladies Club volleyball team, says. “We have been training twice a day [a total of six hours].”
The volleyball team had just returned from a closed training camp in Perugia, where they took part in three practice games against local Italian teams Monini, Acquasparta and Pal Trevi.
“We played three matches against very strong teams,” Nasser said. “We lost them but they were very tough matches. Each team we played against was better than the previous one, but our performances improved as well.”
Previously, the team participated in a local event at Al Wasl Club in Dubai, and had then stepped up their preparation with a camp in Bahrain.
“We played their national team three times and won all three,” she says. “We also played against a local men’s side in Sharjah, we didn’t get a result but it was important practice.”
Arwa Al Omari, part of the administrative team behind the squad, says that Sharjah Ladies Club will be going all out to retain the title they won in 2012.
“Our goal is winning AWST 2014’s title, as a step towards other regional and international titles,” she says.
The AWST has come a long way in just under two years. Initially, the Sharjah Ladies Club had hosted a series of smaller competitions under the title of Gulf Countries Competition (GCC), open to other female Gulf athletes.
The success prompted other Arab countries to seek participation, leading Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the Ruler of Sharjah, to expand the format of the event to provide a larger platform and embrace women from across the Arab world.
The AWST, became the first, and now the largest, of its kind in the Middle East.
“We are very proud of this event, especially after the success of the first championship two years ago,” Nasser says of her home emirate’s achievement. “The organisation and preparation have improved from last time. There are more sports and competitions, and in terms of press conferences and media facilities, there has been a clear improvement.”
Part of this upgrade was to raise the profile of the event and of the strides that women’s sports have taken in the UAE, and the Arab world, over the last few years.
Thanks to an agreement with Sharjah Media Centre, the international coverage for the tournament will this year be enhanced by the establishment of short-term media centres at the 10 venues hosting the different sports.
Najat Bu Rahima, of Sharjah Ladies Club’s basketball team, echoes Nasser’s views and is looking forward to reaping the benefits of the excellent facilities their club has offered.
“Of course we’re very proud of the event, but we also want to keep moving forward and get results as well,” she says.
The basketball squad, like their volleyball counterparts, had completed part of their preparations overseas.
“Earlier in January we went on a training camp in Turkey,” says Bu Rahima.
“We were there for 10 days and we won two out of our three matches in that time. When we came back, we had one last training camp here in the UAE.”
The facilities available in Sharjah have played a big part in promoting women’s sports in the emirate, and Bu Rahima does not hesitate to put them up with the best the world has to offer.
“The [Sharjah Ladies] club provides us with our very own facilities, specially introduced for women,” she adds.
“Other clubs have facilities that are shared by men and women, but our club is the first to provide these kind of professional standards just for women athletes.”