Woman at the wheel

by Nada Zeidan

Poorest nation, richest nation (Issue III+IV/2018)

My interest in this sport was kindled when I saw the opening ceremony of the 1984 Olympic Games on television. I was eight years old and completely fascinated! Qatar was participating in the games for the first time and of course, nobody could imagine that women would ever be part of it. Overcome with a new enthusiasm for sports, I started playing volleyball.

But only when the Qatari archery and rifle association opened its gates for women in the year 2000, my sports career really took off. In the course of two years, I made it into the national archery team for the Busan Asian Games, and in 2006, I won a gold medal.

“As soon as they realised that I had no fear and intended to stay, their attitude slowly changed”

We female pioneers have to overcome the biggest barriers. When I started in sports, there were hardly any sportswomen in the entire Arab world. In the beginning, many men did not exactly encourage me. I think they resented my success because I was an intruder in their world. But as soon as they realised that I had no fear and intended to stay, their attitude slowly changed.

I wanted to prove to the world that we women from Qatar were not like everyone thought. We are not only this stereotypical, conservative figure in a burka! Underneath the black dress and the head scarf are women with modern thoughts who compete with the best. I have always believed that every woman can achieve anything a man can achieve.

After my first successes in archery, I additionally took up motor sports. Participating in the Jordan Rally in 2010 as part of the World Rally Championship has so far been my greatest success. Of course, archery and rally racing are two completely different kinds of sports, but they call for a similar level of concentration. It requires a lot of discipline and the will to exceed oneself. In the beginning, my family was very sceptical. Worried about me, my parents initially did not want me to take up motor racing. In the end, my father agreed, but my mother is still afraid.

“Today I see girls who swim or do gymnastics – only ten years ago this would have been inconceivable”

I can understand this concern; after all, I am a mother myself, but on the other hand, racing in rallies is ultimately safer than everyday traffic. A lot of my friends were also against me taking up motor sports. "That is a men's sport! People will talk bad about you!" – there were many of these comments. But I followed my dream, and the success proved me right: Now, I am one of the few known Arab sportswomen.

In the past years, Qatar's attitude towards sports has fundamentally changed, especially since the Asian Games in 2006. Some of the people who criticised me earlier now want their own daughters to join motor sports. Today I see girls who swim or do gymnastics – only ten years ago this would have been inconceivable. Qatar is a small country with a small population.

Besides our traditional sports such as equitation, falconry or dhow boat racing, international disciplines like football, basketball and swimming are becoming more and more popular. Even in schools, sports is now an integral element of the curriculum.

When people tell me that I am a role model, it makes me very proud. It is only within the past few years that Qatari women have started dreaming of recognition in sports. I advise all of them not to limit their own dreams. Dare to dream of representing your country and of letting your flag wave in the wind of international stages! 

Transcribed by Gundula Haage

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