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El-Moutawakel’s Olympic win

El-Moutawakel’s Olympic win
She inspired future generations of female athletes in the Middle East to achieve further sports milestones. (Getty Images)
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Updated 30 April 2020

El-Moutawakel’s Olympic win

El-Moutawakel’s Olympic win

The athlete was the first Arab Muslim woman (and Moroccan) to win a gold medal

Summary

On Aug. 8, 1984, Nawal El-Moutawakel, the only female athlete in Morocco’s delegation to the Los Angeles Summer Olympics, took 54 seconds to win the inaugural women’s 400-meter hurdles event.

As the first Arab and Muslim woman (and the first Moroccan) to win Olympic gold, and later as the first Muslim woman elected to the International Olympic Committee’s executive board, she inspired future generations of female athletes in the Middle East to achieve further sports milestones.

Those milestones include the lifting of bans on wearing the hijab in sports leagues, and the participation of Saudi female athletes in the Olympics in 2012. Under the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan, the wider participation of women in sports is likely to take them to even greater heights.

JEDDAH: Before the recent suspension of international flights, specifically on March 1, I was touring the Olympic Museum in Lausanne with the Riyadh United women’s basketball team by invitation of the former Swiss President Ueli Maurer. 

The museum takes you on a historical tour through interactive exhibits, from the Ancient Games in 776 BC to the father of modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who helped establish the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Paris on June 23, 1894.

Key Dates

  • 1

    Women are allowed to participate in the Olympics for the first time at the Paris Games; Switzerland’s Helene de Pourtales becomes the first female gold medalist (her team won for sailing); Britain’s Charlotte Cooper is the first individual champion (for singles tennis).

  • 2

    At the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, Nawal El-Moutawakel wins the 400-meter hurdle, becoming the first Arab Muslim woman to win a gold medal.

  • 3

    For the first time, Saudi Arabia sends female athletes to the Olympics, held in London: Wojdan Shaherkani (judo) and Sarah Attar (track), who receives a standing ovation as she crosses the finish line.

    Timeline Image June 2012

  • 4

    At the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Sara Ahmed wins a bronze medal in weightlifting, making her Egypt’s first female Olympic medalist.

  • 5

    Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first US athlete to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab, wins a bronze medal in the team saber event at the Rio Olympics.

    Timeline Image Aug. 13, 2016

  • 6

    Then-Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman launches Vision 2030, which includes widespread participation in sports.

    Timeline Image April 25, 2016

  • 7

    The International Basketball Federation lifts its ban on players wearing the hijab.

  • 8

    The Saudi women’s unified basketball team wins a gold medal at the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi.

  • 9

    Saudi Arabia sends its first female national teams to participate in the sixth GCC Women’s Games in Kuwait.

It was 1896 in Athens when the first modern Olympic Games took place, with 14 countries but no female competitors. In the next Olympics, in Paris in 1900, women were allowed to participate for the first time, in ankle-length skirts, but were limited to a few sports: Sailing, golf, tennis and croquet.

It was not until 1928, at the Olympics in Amsterdam, that women were allowed to compete in track and field. Fast-forward more than 55 years to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, where Nawal El-Moutawakel won the 400-meter hurdle, becoming the first Arab Muslim woman (and Moroccan) to win a gold medal. Newspapers around the world marked this milestone, with Arab News publishing her winning picture on its front page.

Even though I was very young to remember that event, her legend is a landmark in the accomplishments of Arab and Muslim female athletes. When she won, King Hassan II of Morocco called her to congratulate her, and he declared that all girls born that day were to be named in her honor. 

As I reflect on my own experience as a non-professional athlete growing up in Saudi Arabia, I will say that I come from a family who integrated sports in our lives from a young age. My siblings and I played tennis, football and even cricket with my father. 

I was also a student in Saudi private schools, which meant that I had opportunities to practice sports. But I found my passion in basketball. My uncle Tariq was my first basketball coach; he bought several rims and placed them in all family garages. 

In 2003, I gathered my teammates from my high school, forming a local basketball team. It led me to establish the Jeddah United Sports Co., which eventually became the first accredited sports academy in Saudi Arabia. The Jeddah United and Riyadh United women’s teams have participated in sports exchanges around the globe. 

Saudi women began accomplishing their own milestones in sport. In 2008, Arwa Mutabagani was appointed the first female board member of the Saudi Equestrian Federation. Her daughter Dalma Malhas won a historic bronze medal at the Summer Youth Olympics in Singapore in 2010. 

In May 2012, I made it to the base camp of Mount Everest with 10 Saudi women headed by Princess Reema bint Bandar, the current Saudi ambassador to the US, in an effort to raise awareness of breast cancer and the importance of physical activity for prevention and treatment.

“The 22-year-old from Casablanca, tears in her eyes, ran a lap of honor waving her country’s flag handed to her from the crowd after a victory in 54.61 seconds, just outside the world record.”

From a story on the front page of Arab News, Aug. 10, 1984

And in June 2012, Saudi Arabia joined the rest of the world in sending female athletes to the London Summer Olympics: Wojdan Shaherkani participated in judo, and Sarah Attar ran the 800-meter sprint. Attar may have been the last runner, but she got a standing ovation from 80,000 people who cheered her across the finish line. 

Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 reform plan was announced on April 25, 2016. Among its strategic objectives of social and economic empowerment is the promotion of sports and physical activities. This includes increasing the proportion of individuals exercising to 40 percent from 13 percent; enabling Saudi athletes to achieve high performance in different sports; and expanding their exposure at international sporting games.




A page from the Arab News archive from Aug. 8, 1984.

In 2017, the Ministry of Education approved a physical education program for girls in public schools, and in 2018 women were allowed to attend sports events in stadiums, once strictly limited to men.

At the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, there were twice the number of Saudi female athletes, including Attar. Those Games also saw milestones for Arab and Muslim women: Sara Ahmed from Egypt became the first Arab female medalist in weightlifting when she won bronze; and fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won bronze in the team saber event, was the first US athlete to compete in a hijab at the Games.

On May 3, 2017, the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) announced the lifting of its ban on players wearing the hijab, a significant move because it is through the FIBA basketball World Cup that nations qualify for the Olympic Games. 

In March 2019, another milestone of inclusion took place in the Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi, when Saudi Arabia’s Special Olympians won 18 gold medals in various sports. For the girls’ basketball team, the Saudi Olympic Committee collaborated with the renowned Help Center, a non-profit organization that empowers, supports and trains girls and boys with intellectual disabilities. 

Jeddah United was tasked to recommend players who were not intellectually disabled, who were then integrated with athletes with intellectual disabilities to form the Saudi women’s unified basketball team. It was implemented according to the 4P concept: Public-Private-People-Partnership. The Saudi women’s unified basketball team made history, winning the only undefeated gold medal at the 2019 Special Olympics in Abu Dhabi. 

Later that year, Saudi women made a historic appearance at the sixth GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) Games in Kuwait, participating in eight different games and winning two gold medals in fencing.

In the Ancient Olympic Games in Greece, athletes competed in one event: A foot race for men. Who could have imagined then the course of development leading to an Arab Muslim female runner winning gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics?

Now, as we are unfortunately in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics have been postponed along with many other sports events, we must maintain high spirits and look at the glass half full, with another extra year for preparation and training for 2021. May God protect humanity and the universe at large.

  • Lina K. Almaeena, a member of the Shoura Council, is co-founder of the Jeddah United Sports Co. and is on Forbes’ list of the 200 Most Powerful Arab Women.


’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
Updated 5 min 22 sec ago

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area

’It’s all a lie’: hesitancy hampers vaccine drive in war-scarred Syrian area
  • Consignment of 54,000 doses of AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at April’s end, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory
  • The challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines as some question whether the virus itself is a threat

IDLIB: In northwest Syria, where health care is rudimentary and those displaced by war are packed into squalid camps, the arrival of vaccines to fight COVID-19 should have been cause for relief.
Instead, a UN-backed vaccination campaign has met with suspicion and mistrust by an exhausted population, who feel betrayed by their government and abandoned by the international community after a decade of conflict that ruined their lives.
“It’s all a lie, even if the dose is for free I wouldn’t take it,” said Jassem Al-Ali, who fled his home in the south of Idlib province and now lives in Teh camp, one of many in a region controlled by opponents of the Damascus government.
Youssef Ramadan, another camp resident who lived under bombardment for years, echoed the doubts. “Will we be like sheep who trust the herder until they are slaughtered?” he asked.
A consignment of 54,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrived in Idlib at the end of April, the first batch for opposition-held Syrian territory, delivered through the global vaccine-sharing platform COVAX. Inoculations started on May 1.
“There is a large amount of hesitancy and what made it worse is everything in the media continuously about AstraZeneca and blood clots,” Yasser Naguib, a doctor who heads a local vaccine team working in opposition-held areas, told Reuters.
Similar concerns about the coronavirus vaccine have slowed the rollout in Europe and elsewhere amid worries about rare cases of blood clots associated with the AstraZeneca shot.
Most governments have said benefits far outweigh the risks, although some have restricted it to certain age groups. But the challenge in Idlib goes beyond doubts about vaccines. Some question whether the virus itself is a threat.
“If there really was coronavirus in Idlib you would hear about tens of thousands of people getting it,” said 25-year-old Somar Youssef, who fled his home in Idlib’s rural Maara region.
Naguib said it was challenging to convince people fasting during Ramadan to take a shot when they can’t take oral medication for any side effects, such as a fever. Eid Al-Fitr, marking the end of the Muslim month, starts this week.
“We are optimistic that after Eid it will be better,” he said, adding that a 55-strong team was working to raise awareness about virus risks and vaccine benefits.
At the same time as doses from COVAX landed in Idlib, 200,000 shots arrived in Damascus, part of the World Health Organization campaign to inoculate about 20 percent of Syria’s population, or 5 million people across the nation, this year.
Officials have not given any indication about take up in government-held areas, where Damascus also aims to use vaccines from Russia, the government’s military ally, and China.
In Idlib, Naguib said 6,070 people out of around 40,000 health care and humanitarian workers on a priority list had been vaccinated by May 9. But even some health care workers are wary.
A Reuters witness saw just seven out of 30 medical workers receiving vaccines on the first day of a campaign at one Idlib medical center. Initially, only three had volunteered.
“As a director of the kidney dialysis unit, I was the first one to get the vaccine and I wanted to encourage the rest, who were scared because of all the rumors about it,” said Taher Abdelbaki, a doctor at another clinic, the Ibn Sina medical center.
By the end of 2021, two more COVAX vaccine batches are expected to arrive in Idlib to inoculate about 850,000 people in a region of about 3.5 million people, a target that leaves the region’s vaccination teams with much work to do.
“We will not be their lab rats here in the north,” said Abdelsalam Youssef, a community leader in Teh camp.


Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
Updated 3 min 47 sec ago

Joshua set to fight Fury in Saudi Arabia in August, says promoter Eddie Hearn

The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua (L) and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, according to promoter Eddie Hearn. (AFP/File Photos)
  • Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14

LONDON: The all-British fight between Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury for the undisputed world heavyweight title will take place in Saudi Arabia, promoter Eddie Hearn said on Tuesday.

Hearn, who represents Joshua, said the fight is likely to take place on Aug. 7 or Aug. 14. He said Aug. 14 is his preferred date because the Olympic Games in Tokyo will have finished, making the Joshua-Fury fight a bigger “global spectacle.”

“It’s a very bad secret that the fight is happening in Saudi Arabia,” Hearn told British broadcaster Sky Sports. “To be honest with you, I don’t mind giving you that information.”

Fury’s US promoter, Bob Arum, has previously said Saudi Arabia would be the location of the fight.

Hearn has yet to respond to AP requests to confirm the details of the fight.

READ MORE

On a rainy night in Diriyah in 2019, Anthony Joshua regained his world heavyweight titles after a unanimous points decision from the judges over Andy Ruiz Jr in an epic night of boxing in Saudi Arabia. Read how it happened here.

It would be Joshua’s second fight in the kingdom. He reclaimed his WBA, IBF and WBO belts from Andy Ruiz there in December 2019.

Joshua’s only fight since saw him retain his titles by knocking out Kubrat Pulev in December.

Fury hasn’t fought since beating Deontay Wilder in February last year to capture the WBC title.

Fury and Joshua have called each other out over Twitter over the last 24 hours, both urging the other to finalize terms for the fight.

Hearn said the “deal is done” but there was frustration on both sides that the fight had not been officially announced.

“From our perspective and AJ’s perspective, we’re ready to go,” he said. “From Tyson Fury’s perspective, they’ve got a couple of lawyers across it from their point.

“We have to nail this,” Hearn added, “and I’m not going to stop until I nail it, and everyone has just got to move forward collectively. We’re ready to go from our side. We’re not far away from their side and it is inevitable.”


Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program

Greek islands to get accelerated vaccination program
  • Priority for age groups and medical vulnerability waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands
  • Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million

NAXOS, Greece: A vaccination program for Greek islands is being accelerated to cover all local residents by the end of June, the government announced Tuesday ahead of the launch of the tourism season.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said a nationwide priority system for age groups and medical vulnerability was being waived for permanent residents of nearly 100 islands.
“This initiative is aimed at supporting local island communities and their economy and it also aspires to send a positive overall message for our tourism,” Mitsotakis said.
Greece is fighting to revive its key tourism sector that was battered by the pandemic in 2020 but its vaccination rates remain below the European Union average and the country has only recently stabilized a surge in cases.
Islanders make up around 1.5 million of Greece’s population of 10.7 million. Many holiday islands have a year-round population of under 10,000, while Crete has the largest with more than 600,000 residents, followed by Evia, Rhodes, Corfu, Lesbos, and Chios. The tourism season will officially start Friday.


Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations
Updated 30 min 55 sec ago

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

Saudi Arabia includes fines in COVID-19 regulations

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia announced on Tuesday a series of fines to be enforced against individuals and businesses which do not comply with COVID-19 regulations and social distancing, state news agency SPA reported.
The fines vary between 10,000 riyals ($2,666) and 50,000 riyals for individuals while businesses will have to pay between 10,000 and 100,000 riyals.
Recidivist business owners will be prosecuted, SPA added.
($1 = 3.7502 riyals)


Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
Updated 11 May 2021

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm

Lebanon must fix debts, end prosecutor action or face power cut, says Turkish firm
  • Turkey’s Karadeniz supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Karadeniz, which supplies electricity to Lebanon from power barges, told Beirut to halt action by the Lebanese prosecutor to seize its vessels and said it must draw up a plan to settle arrears to avoid a cut in supplies, a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson for Karpowership, a unit of Karadeniz that operates floating power plants, was speaking on Tuesday after Lebanon’s Finance Ministry cited a lawmaker saying the country had been threatened with a cut to its supplies.
A Lebanese prosecutor issued a decision last week to seize the barges and fine the firm after TV channel Al-Jadeed reported corruption allegations tied to the power contract. The firm denies the charges and says it has not been paid for 18 months.