x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Sports champion says opportunities for girls are being wasted

Tae kwon do gold medallist says change in traditional attitudes towards sporting achievement for women is slow in coming.

DUBAI // A tae kwon do gold medallist from the national team has called for more support for women, saying change in traditional attitudes towards sporting achievement is slow in coming.

"As much as we say we have female athletes in the GCC, the focus on women is not there," said Basma Essa, 27, who won her medal at the under-57 kilogram category at the GCC Women's Games in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago. "I have to actually beg for training with the national team coach because there is no emphasis on ladies."

Attitudes towards professional female athletes are changing at a "turtle's pace", said Essa, the daughter of Ahmed Essa, who captained the national football team in the 1970s. She added that the opportunity to get girls involved in athletics earlier in their lives was being wasted.

"It's less of a chauvinist mentality, it's ignorance," she said. "In any other country, it is your right to train. I would understand if they tell me it's an age issue and we need to focus on the younger kids, but when you're giving more focus for men than women, then I have a problem."

While support may be growing at a club level for girls, it quickly disappears as they mature and seek to compete at international tournaments, or to train beside men.

"Family members are more encouraging but still there is that conservative side," Essa said. "I'm not sure if ladies find the same support if [they] want to become professionals.

"This is the society we're living in. We don't believe that women can become professional athletes.

"For some reason as we get older they feel that we're supposed to be safeguarded."

Essa said that being a role model for young women provided her with the chance to change stereotypical thinking.

"I think it's all about education. Nothing changes without changing perceptions," she said. "Many times I feel like giving up. It's just because I love it so much that I continue doing it."

azacharias@thenational.ae