The Late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Founding Father of UAE, once said that, “The woman is half of the society; any country which pursues development should not leave her in poverty or illiteracy”.
Echoing those sentiments, Laura Georges, one of the top stars of international women’s football and Secretary General of French Football Federation, has urged the sports fraternity to invest in women’s sports to strengthen the whole community as it recovers from COVID-19.
“Investing in women means investing in the whole family,” said Georges, as she discussed the “Future of Women’s Sport in Light of the Current Challenges” alongside Tunisian fencer Ines Boubakri, winner of a bronze medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, during the virtual “International Forum for Women and Sports”, which was organised by the Women’s Sports Committee of Dubai Sports Council on Wednesday.
“When you invest in women and women’s sport, you benefit the entire household and the community – you benefit her parents and her children, you benefit her spouse and her siblings, and you benefit future generations and communities.
“So, as we forge ahead, leaving these challenging times behind, I believe it is critical that we invest more in women. It will be important that men and women unite and combine their efforts in creating and achieving excellence, not just in the sports sector, but in every sphere of life.”
Held on video conferencing app Zoom, the Forum boasted a panel that included Sheikha Shamsa Bint Hasher Al Maktoum, Board Member of the UAE Volleyball Association and Member of the Board of Directors of Al Wasl Sports Club in Dubai; Sheikha Naima Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah, head of the Organizing Committee for Women’s Games in the Gulf Cooperation Council; Mouza Ibrahim Mohamed Al Suwaidi, Undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Community Development; Rowdah Al Mehrizi, Chairperson of Women’s Sports Committee; Her Excellency Nada Askar Al Naqbi, Director General of Sharjah Women's Sports Foundation; and Dr Mai Al Jaber, Board member of the UAE National Olympic Committee and the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy.
Nadia Khadim, captain of Al Wasl’s women’s volleyball team, was also on the list of panellists, while Fouzeya Faridoon, Manager of Dubai Sports Council’s Women’s Sports Development section and Manager of the Council’s Women’s Sports Committee, delivered the closing address.
Speaking about the impact of COVID-19 on international sports, Mouza Ibrahim Mohamed Al Suwaidi, Undersecretary at the UAE Ministry of Community Development, said: “The pandemic has affected every sector of life, in every part of the world. It has affected the sports sector as well and in the USA alone, the sports sector is estimated to have lost about $ 12 billion due to the pandemic in the last few minutes. At the world level, you can only imagine how big that number will be.
“But on the individual level - and I am not a sports expert - I believe COVID-19 has contributed towards raising awareness about sports and a physically active lifestyle. People seem to be more interested in their physical activity and healthy living now.”
HE Nada Askar Al Naqbi, Director General of Sharjah Women's Sports Foundation, also spoke about positives and said: “Despite the circumstances and challenges we are facing, I prefer to look at this crisis as an opportunity and not as an adversity. I believe we will bounce back stronger from this phase, overcoming all the challenges and using this experience to our benefit. We will be challenged to innovate and we will see virtual events, competitions and forums becoming more commonplace.
“Of course, I believe we will need greater support and encouragement from all the government and private institutions as we work to enhance the presence of our ladies at local, regional and international sports events.”
Talking about the impact of COVID-19 on her as a player, Georges added: “It was really strange to see all the sports activity come to a halt. Things were really complicated in the first few days as we were worried whether it was safe to train in these circumstances, but after studying the matter carefully, we started opening up gradually, applying safety protocols.”
Boubakri, who was training for the Olympics in the USA, also found the first few days of the lockdown really confusing because of all the “conflicting information”.
“I had never faced such a situation before,” she said. “I never had to stop training or sit at home before. So it was difficult, but we managed to get through this phase with the help of my coach. I did not give up or allow fear to take hold of me – and that is very important as an athlete. We should never let fear overcome us. That is my advice to every woman.”