Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Muslim Girls Make a Stand at Asiad

Pakistani cricketers, cast aside in their country, beat Bangladesh for gold at the Asian Games in China. (AFP Photo) Pakistani cricketers, cast aside in their country, beat Bangladesh for gold at the Asian Games in China. (AFP Photo)

Guangzhou, China. Back home, the Pakistani women’s cricket team is anonymous, especially compared with their illustrious male counterparts. But after their gold medal triumph at the Asian Games, the girls in green basked in the spotlight.

It was Pakistan’s first Asian Games gold medal in eight years — a milestone that supporters said pointed to the need for more education and opportunities in sports for Muslim women.

“There are so many sports in which women participate in Pakistan — like squash, table tennis and volleyball — but they go unnoticed,” said Pakistan all-rounder Nida Rashid.

In parts of the continent, playing sports is considered inappropriate for women and out of step with traditional gender roles.

Consequently, resources for coaching, training and competition generally lag behind the funding for male athletes.

Pakistan came to Guangzhou with 25 female athletes out of a total of 169, participating in cricket, judo, shooting, squash and sailing. Iran, meanwhile, sent a women’s team to compete in kabaddi, a contact sport, and all players wore head coverings in their opening match, defeating Taiwan 62-18 on Monday.

War-torn Afghanistan has seven women in its 67-member delegation, all of them competing in martial arts events. Conservative Saudi Arabia has 170 men and not a single woman.

In comparison, host China, a sporting powerhouse that has invested heavily in developing elite athletes of both genders, has 458 women and 507 men.

“There still needs to be more work toward educating females and their families to make them feel that is it OK to represent their countries abroad,” said Basma Ahmad Essa, a taekwondo athlete from the United Arab Emirates. “[But] we’re not disagreeing with any laws of Islam.”

One women’s squad has been taking the field at the Asiad with traditional Muslim head coverings, showing that religious obligations can coexist with sports.

“The world has developed and it is time for women to take their place,” said Maryam Ahmed Al-Suweidi of the Qatari handball team, just one of two female Arab teams in Guangzhou. The other is the football team from Jordan.

“I do not believe there is any obstacle against women taking part in sport in the Arab world,” Al-Suweidi said confidently.

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