Ons Jabeur, Rababe Arafi and Zahra Lari: 10 Arab sportswomen to watch out for in 2020

From tennis and squash players to figure skaters and Olympians, Arab sportswomen promise to make their mark in 2020

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Arab women have made great strides on the international sports stage in recent years, and 2020 promises to be another year when women from the region continue to make their mark. As we enter a new year - and indeed a new decade - Reem Abulleil selects 10 Arab sportswomen to keep an eye on.

Ons Jabeur (Tunisia) – Tennis

The Tunisian tennis star became the highest ranked Arab woman in history in 2019, when she peaked at No 51 in the world in September. The former Roland Garros junior champion boasts a unique and entertaining game style that has made her an instant fan favourite on the WTA Tour. Jabeur, 25, is the first and only Arab woman to reach the third round of a grand slam (French Open 2017, US Open 2019) and will be looking to go even further in 2020. If you like crafty drop shots and unexpected tennis, then keep an eye out for Jabeur this new season.

Rababe Arafi (Morocco) – Athletics

The 28-year-old Moroccan will be one to watch on the track at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. Ranked fifth in the world this year in the 1500m and 13th in the 800m, the middle distance runner is building up momentum towards the Games next summer. She won the 1500m at the Diamond League event in Shanghai last May with a world-leading time of 4:01.15 and set a new national record with a 3:58.84 in Morocco two months later. Arafi scooped two golds at the Mediterranean Games last year in Tarragona, and was seventh in the 800m and ninth in the 1500m at the World Championships in Qatar a couple of months ago.

Raneem El Welily (Egypt) – Squash

The Egyptian squash star has just completed a full calendar year as world No 1 – a position she first reached in September 2015 to become the first woman from her nation to do so – and has a string of fierce competitors chasing her at the top. El Welily recently lost in the World Championship final to her friend, rival and fellow Alexandrian Nour El Sherbini, who is back to No 2 in the rankings. Their battle for dominance will continue in 2020 and will no doubt provide some thrilling viewing for fans throughout the season.

Zahra Lari (UAE) – Figure skating

When Zahra Lari competed internationally for the first time wearing the hijab in 2012, she received point deductions because of her outfit. Now, seven years later, the UAE’s ‘Ice Princess’ can comfortably compete around the world wearing her headscarf after she campaigned for the rules to change. A figure skating pioneer in the Emirates, 24-year-old Lari was the first from her country to compete at the Winter Universiade in Russia in 2019. The two-time UAE national champion dreams of qualifying for the next Winter Olympic Games in Beijing in 2022. Hers is a unique journey worth following in 2020.

Ines Boubakri (Tunisia) – Fencing

The 31-year-old Tunisian is set to compete in her third Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. At Rio 2016, Boubakri became the first fencer from her nation to win an Olympic medal when she clinched bronze in the women’s individual foil event. She qualified for Tokyo as one of the world’s top 16 fencers, and top-ranked African. She is a two-time bronze medallist at the World Championships and is now targeting the top of the podium in Japan in 2020.

Sarah Essam (Egypt) – Football

The first Arab female to play football professionally in a European league, Essam continues her journey with Stoke City Ladies’ Development team in 2020, after winning her side’s Golden Boot last season. The 20-year-old Egyptian got her first call up for the national team when she was just 16, and has made headlines back home thanks to her exploits at Stoke. With more eyes on her, and a mission to inspire other Egyptian girls to venture into football, Essam is poised to have an even greater impact moving forward.

Ray Bassil (Lebanon) – Shooting

The Lebanese trap shooter will be making her third Olympics appearance at Tokyo 2020. She qualified for the Games by winning the women’s trap gold medal at the Asian Shooting Championships in Doha last month. “I think you have to see the big picture. It's not about winning and losing; it's about every day hard work and about thriving on a challenge to put Lebanon on top,” Bassil posted on her Instagram after topping the podium. “It's about embracing the pain that you'll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid.”

Dalma Malhas (Saudi Arabia) – Equestrian

When Malhas won a bronze medal in individual showjumping at the Youth Olympic Games in Singapore in 2010, she was the first ever female to represent Saudi Arabia at an Olympic event. Now, nearly a decade later, Malhas continues to blaze a trail for women in her country by competing at shows around the globe. She became the first Saudi woman to participate in the World Equestrian Games in 2018 in Tryon, North Carolina. The 27-year-old recently competed on home soil for the first time during Saudi’s Diriyah Equestrian Festival, fulfilling a lifelong dream.

Hedaya Malak (Egypt) – Taekwondo

A bronze medallist in the -57kg category at the Rio 2016 Olympics – the first Egyptian woman to win a medal in taekwondo in Games history – Malak has since moved up a weight class and is now competing in the -67kg. It is a change that has required some adjustment but she has started to recapture her mojo, winning gold at the All Africa Games in August, and taking bronze at the World Military Games in October. Seeking a third consecutive appearance at the Olympics, the 26-year-old now has gold on her mind for Tokyo 2020.

Maha Haddioui (Morocco) – Golf

The first Arab woman to earn a playing card on the Ladies European Tour, Haddioui represented Morocco in golf’s long-awaited return to the Olympics in Rio 2016. The 31-year-old Agadir-based golfer dreams of making a second appearance at the Games in Tokyo, but is yet to secure a spot. She has had two top-20 finishes this season and is ranked No 66 on the LET Order of Merit. Haddioui has played a big role in promoting golf among Arab women, especially back home in Morocco, and has called for more playing opportunities for female golfers in the region so the game can develop even further.


10 Arab sportsmen to watch out for in 2020