Sportswoman is trying to win games and to change people's mindsets

When Muna Al Sahlawi takes to the field in any of the numerous sports she plays, not only is she trying to win the games, she is also trying to change mindsets.

"At the moment, sport is still a hobby for women. I want it to be a career," says Muna Al Sahlawi. Reem Mohammed / The National
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DUBAI // When Muna Al Sahlawi takes to the field in the many sports she plays, not only is she trying to win, she is also trying to change mindsets.
The 27-year-old comes from a family of sports fanatics. Her father played football for Al Shabab Sports club and represented the country for many years. But she pinpoints her love for sports to a specific moment when she was watching a football match on television in 1997.
Juventus were playing Fiorentina in the Italian Serie A league when Argentinian striker Gabriel Batistuta scored a wonder goal.
"This is when I knew I had fallen in love with football," she says.
Now, Al Sahlawi plays volleyball for the Al Shabab Club and the UAE national team, as well as basketball and football for the Al Nasr Club.
She is also an expert badminton player, winning an over-21 Dubai Sports Council championship four years in a row from 2011 to last year.
When you add table tennis and handball to the list, it is clear that she is an all-round athlete.
But it was initially difficult to persuade her family to let her play sports, she says.
"I struggled at the beginning when I wanted to do sports activities and join sports clubs. My family were not very fond of the idea," she says.
"Later, with a little push, my family became more accepting and they supported me to find success."
Beside her achievements on the pitch, she has also succeeded in an organisational role.
She says she takes great pride in managing the first football tournament for women at the Al Nasr Club in 2013.
"It was a two-day tournament in which they involved Emirati female referees as well. We had more than 90 people who came to watch," Ms Al Sahlawi says. "We came second in the tournament and that was a miracle for us. I was very pleased."
But she believes that for women to really succeed at sport, there needs to be changes in the education system.
"We need two things to attract and enhance sports for females. The first thing is for them to have great role models, and second the public schools should open up more for sports activities," Ms Al Sahlawi says.
She hopes her success can inspire other Emirati women to take up sports.
"Leadership is a key for any kind of sportsmanship. There has to be a person to look up to, a person that can inspire others," she says, adding that having more women coaches would be a great help.
"In one of the universities there is a football team for girls, but their coach was a man. He knew me personally and contacted me to take his place for the coaching.
"He said the girls were a bit uncomfortable that a man was coaching them. Since I took over, six more girls have joined the team and I have been coaching them for about three to four months."
She is now hoping to push for an official UAE women's football team that will be recognised by Fifa and become part of the organisation's global tournaments.
Eventually she would like to see women being able to make a living in sports.
She cites the German Women Bundesliga football league as an example of how women "can be a player, a finance director, team manager or head of medical team".
"At the moment, sport is still a hobby for women. I want it to be a career," she says.