After their ground-breaking debut at the London Olympic Games, Qatar is set to step up a gear in promoting and developing women’s sports in the country and the region.
According to Ahlam Al Mana, chief of the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee (QWSC), Qatar is planning to stage an under-14 international football tournament for girls tentatively planned for April next year. On Saturday, shooter Bahya Mansour Al Hamad contested the 10m rifle competition, becoming the first Qatari woman to take part in an Olympic Games competition. The same day Qatar’s 17-year-old Ayah Magdi made her debut in table tennis.
Sprinter Noor Al Malki and swimmer Nada Mohammed are set for their Olympic Games debuts in the coming days. Ahlam, who is part of the Qatar contingent at the 2012 London Olympic Games, yesterday revealed new events and a school campaign to get more girls involved in sport.
“We have not finalized the dates for the under-14 event but we will get international teams to take part in what will be a new event on our national sports calendar,” Ahlam said during an interview.
Question: How does it feel to see Qatar women take part in the Olympic Games?
Answer: Now I see my dream coming true. We have sent our girls to many editions of Asian Games and a few world championships. We have worked tirelessly to get this project off the ground and make it happen. All of this started some 11-12 years ago a little before we sent woman athletes to the Bussan Asian Games. I am very, very happy to see four athletes Qatar participate in the London Olympic Games.
Also, the important thing is all the four athletes are fairly young. They have time on their side to improve their skills, to get more experience and to get more chances at the Olympic Games. They will get the opportunities to work hard, to train and to become better athletes. They are getting all of those chances even now. But now we will widen our net and get more young athletes involved.
Question: Are you satisfied with what QWSC has achieved over the last 10-12 years?
Answer: Yes, we are satisfied but we won’t stop. We will continue in our mission to get our girls better prepared for Olympic Games and other international events. To reach the Games, this time was very satisfying but now we will build on this and take the level of girls’ involvement to a notch higher. When you go back 11 years, you would see that we were starting out to build on this dream. After realising our dream, we don’t want to stop. We want to get moving and step into next gear. The support of the higher authorities – the Emir, His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani and the Heir Apparent, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been very critical in our rise to this level.
Question: How do you feel at the involvement of coaches and trainers helping the QWSC?
Answer: In fact, there have been so many people who have helped us get here (to the Olympic Games). The backroom staff like the coaches and trainers have also played a very valuable part in helping our young, inexperienced athletes improve and reach London. Irrespective of the results, we are thrilled to see these young Qatari girls training and competing in London. This moment of happiness results from the long journey that we have undertaken to get here. It is a beginning (to be at the Olympic Games) and it will continue.
Question: Can your female athletes win medals?
Answer: Yes, in the future we can win medals too. They (the athletes) would get all the possible support in terms of infrastructure, opportunity, coaching and training. This process will get us more medals.
Question: Would you be bringing in more coaches to help the athletes with potential to win?
Answer: Yes, of course our future course of action also involves getting more coaches and people in specialised beats. We are not just making soft promises. We have already worked on a new strategy and we will put that to practice after the London Olympic Games. We will take care of these girls. We will do everything to make them Olympic champions.
Question: What is one thing that you would like to see in your athletes?
Answer: For us, I want the girls and young women to think on professional lines. Being an athlete means total focus on improving skills, fitness and endurance in any beat. This is what I want to see in our girls. They need to work hard and improve their mental side of the game. Of course, thinking on such line would make them role models for other girls following them. Being a professional athlete is tough but the right way to move forward.
Question: Any plans to catch them young while at school?
Answer: We have already started our school campaign. We know the best results are gained when young kids take sport seriously. They have the energy and the enthusiasm to do well because of their young age. We started this campaign last year in school. Our first project targets girls from class one to six. We are set to open talent centres so that girls with special interest in sports can make use of these centres.
These centres will help the young girls develop their skills and get proper training. We are confident that girls are better learners than boys (laughs) and it would be easier to train them for better results.
Question: Tell us something about your basketball and handball leagues.
Answer: In the last few months, we launched basketball and handball leagues in Qatar. That was never done before. We start with football league sometime back and then we brought in basketball and handball leagues. (Organized by QSports Leagues and supported by QWSC), the basketball historic league saw 10 women teams participate in 29 games played over a period of six-to-seven weeks.
Question: Did you get what you were looking for from these leagues?
Answer: We saw great interest among girls who love sports. We are also getting good support from the sports clubs in Qatar. This is helping us establish good base of players. The Heir Apparent has assured us that would be good budget to promote women’s sports. Sheikh Saoud bin Abdulrelham Al Thani has also given us similar assurances. We would also get them involve in other sports also. If we find adequate venues for sports like hockey, we would even launch leagues in such beats.
Question: What do your female athletes do when they are not busy playing at home?
Answer: Qatar takes part in various events and championships, team or individual, staged overseas. We sent a big contingent (around 27 athletes) to the inaugural Arab Women Sports Tournament (held from February 2 to 12 at the Sharjah Ladies Club in Sharjah, UAE). Qatar took part in five disciplines - basketball, volleyball, athletics, shooting and table tennis. Later, QWSC sent another batch of athletes to the 3rd GCC Women’s Sports Championship in Bahrain (held in March this year). Earlier (in December 2011), Qatar finished a memorable fourth at the 12th Arab Games. The Qatari women won a record 32 medals at the two-week multi-sport event (which ended on December 23). Qatari girls won ten gold and an equal number of silver medals, besides 12 bronze.
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