The women's majlis: Sport has the power to inspire women

What do you think about the level of sport for women in the UAE? Would you do anything to change it?

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Each month, Weekend will pose a different question to be debated by a series of female Emirati columnists. This week, we ask Mariam Al Omaira:

What do you think about the level of sport for women in the UAE? Would you do anything to change it?

The level of sport for women in the UAE is gradually improving year after year. It's impressive and honourable to know that women are fighting for their passion, whether it be in football, hockey, basketball or even tae kwon do. After being involved in sport for several years, we finally see women's sports academies coming online, organisations establishing leagues to enhance competition and resources injected into different clubs to develop women's sport and increase participation. Nevertheless, more effort needs to be put in, and there are more milestones to accomplish.

One of the main reasons that I started Irada Sport Development Company was to increase sport awareness and sport culture within the community. To grow professionally, we need to bridge the gap between raw talent and advanced levels of sport. Our culture still views sport as a hobby and not a profession that can be sought after. Therefore, we need to instil sport culture into our society. We couldn't expect to be doctors or lawyers without going to school first, right? It's the same with sport: we can't expect to achieve great results internationally if we don't learn to value sport and provide grassroots development programs on a national level. We need to create competitive atmospheres in schools, and increase hours of physical education, rather than substitute the subject with more hours of free time. After-school sport should be mandatory, and more national and regional competitions need to be held for sport to truly develop in the UAE.

As a social entrepreneur, the greatest challenge faced in the two years of my company is the ability to find the right venue, without jeopardising the environment for local women who wish to play within the boundaries of culture and tradition. Venues are either too expensive or too open. The other challenge is the inability to find female referees to officiate.

As a player participating in the first women's football league, the problem was there, too. The conditions we had to play under were, unfortunately, horrible. The field was half-grass, half-sand, and many players suffered ligament injuries. The referees needed more practice, too.

If I were to really make a change in women's sport, I'd have different organisations working alongside each other to achieve a single objective: excellence in sport.

Sport isn't only about winning and achieving great results. Sport should equal opportunity.

One quote, from Nelson Mandela, that I truly believe in, says: "Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. Sport can awaken hope where once there was only despair."

Mariam Al Omaira is the founder of the Irada Sport Development Company.

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