Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1271, (19-25 November 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s trailblazer

Mervat Hassanein made history by winning the International Olympic Committee trophy for women and sport at a gala at the Olympic Museum. Inas Mazhar reports from Lausanne

Al-Ahram Weekly

Mervat Hassanein, a former national fencing champion and currently the head of the women and sport committee at the Egyptian National Olympic Committee, won the trophy for Africa at a star-studded ceremony which also marks the 20th anniversary of the creation of the IOC women and sport commission.

The IOC Women and Sport Awards were introduced in 2000 to recognise the outstanding achievements and contributions of those who promote gender equality in sport. Every year, the IOC invites each National Olympic Committee, International Federation and Continental Association to nominate a candidate or association active in promoting gender equality. An IOC jury composed of members of the IOC Women in Sport Commission reviews the nominations and chooses six winners – the World Trophy winner and five Continental Trophy winners.

The winners this year came from many sports and played an instrumental role at numerous levels, including elite sport, grassroots sport and sports administration, in promoting women and sport activities. All five have played key roles in increasing the participation of women in sport, including in administration and leadership positions, in their respective regions.

In addition to the trophies, the winners also received $30,000 in prize money to be given to the National Olympic Committees and to be used for women’s projects and activities. Within a month after receiving their trophies, winners and their NOCs should inform the IOC with their plans and projects.

The winner for Africa, Egypt’s Hassanein, a former national fencing champion, has a 40-year-old career during which she has contributed greatly to developing and spreading sport within the country, especially among girls. Even when she retired, Hassanein never quit the sports world. She delved into administration to the highest levels, becoming a board member in the bodies of the Egyptian, Arab, African and international federations. She was a board member of the National Olympic Committee from 2008 to 2012 and is meanwhile the chair of the Women and Sport Committee. These roles saw her become one of the first women to occupy decision-making positions within sports bodies in the region.

In the 1990s, the Ministry of Sports and Youth chose Hassanein as a member of the Supreme Committee for activating women’s sports in Egypt. In this role, she travelled throughout the country, giving lectures to raise awareness about the importance of sport for women and girls.

Being a sports reporter at the daily Al-Ahram, Hassanein’s achievement is doubled for both Egyptian sports and sports media. She was the first female sports reporter in Egypt and her weekly column Sports Talk is among the oldest in Egyptian sports newspapers, which she has used to focus on women’s issues in sport, encourage girls to take on sports and support women’s empowerment, and has called for their inclusion within sports organisations. In her column and other writings, she has always highlighted the importance of sport for women and its role within society, making sure that the Egyptian media covered women’s sports championships, and has written many articles on the importance of equality between girls and boys.

“I am really excited with this award. It means that my work and efforts for women and sports throughout all those years is appreciated by all levels, in Egypt, the continent and worldwide. I thank the Egyptian Olympic Committee for nominating me and the IOC commission for recognising my work and their vote of confidence in selecting me from among other candidates,” Hassanein told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“This award might be personal, but I believe it is also meant for all Egyptian sports women. I am glad to become a role model to them and will maintain my efforts to ensure that all Egyptian girls and women claim their rights to play sports.

“The award is such an incentive and motivation to me. It will drive me more. As long as I live, I will continue dedicating all my time and effort to the development of women in sport, not only in Egypt but also in the continent and the region.”

Hassanein told the Weekly that she intends to use the prize money in establishing a national sports programme for girls in schools all over the country, where they would be trained and nurtured.

Winner for the Americas was Sara Rosario of Puerto Rico, chief of mission for the Puerto Rican team at five Olympic Games and president of the Puerto Rico NOC. “This is a special award and a goal for me,” Rosario told the Weekly after receiving her trophy.

“This is my motivation to encourage women in my country. There are still some battles and fights to go to develop women’s sports. Every year we have an activity in March on Women’s Day, and we have celebrated in the past two years the Olympic festival only for women. We call federations to invite new athletes and new girls at a young age to improve sports. This year, I have new athletes and am very proud for them.”

Bahrain’s Sheikha Hayat Bint Abdulaziz Al-Khalifa, vice-president of the Arab Table Tennis Federation, president of the Bahrain Table Tennis Association and board member of the Bahrain Olympic Committee claimed the trophy for Asia. Following her success as both a table tennis and volleyball player, Sheikha Hayat Al-Khalifa played an active role within sporting organisations in Bahrain and the region, with a committed focus on empowering and promoting women in sport. She not only pioneered the inclusion of women in sport in her own country, but also throughout the Gulf region.

“In fact this award gives me a great pride as it is recognition from the highest sporting body which is the IOC. I think it is really an incentive and inspiration for me to exert more effort for the benefit of women and sport. This will always give me an inspiration to develop women and sport in my country and this will be my central target which I will always work to attain by working hand in hand with the NOC,” she told the Weekly.

“I have something to say to all women: let your confidence in yourself and your persistence guide you to reach your goal and one day you will do it, and all the time put in your mind that you are able and capable of doing it and say ‘I will do it.”’

The 2004 Athens silver medallist in waterpolo and president of the Greek Olympic Winners Association Stavroula Kozompoli was named the winner for Europe. Kozompoli played waterpolo for Greece for more than 15 year. Since retiring as an athlete, she has served on several different commissions and associations within the sports movement and has made every effort to help and promote female athletes and support women in administration and leadership positions. She has also acted as a mentor for female athletes and coaches, and has also been very active in identifying new talented female athletes and securing sponsorship for them.

Kozompoli spoke to the Weekly after claiming her award. “This award is a great honour for me personally but it is also to my country Greece as well, the country where the Olympic movement was instituted and the Olympic Games were born. I am very happy to win this award, thanks to the Greek Olympic Committee who gave me the opportunity by nominating me and the IOC women and sport commission that gave me this award this year. And it is of course a recognition for me and I will try to do my best for women and sport,” Kozompoli said, revealing her future plans. “I will use the prize money for making an international campaign with the title ‘Make a place for one more woman’ so that many, many girls and women can practice sports for free because you have to pay in Greece for everything to play sports. In this campaign, they can train for free and take scholarships for being successful coaches, referees and leaders.”

Australia’s Cathy Freeman was the winner for Oceania. As one of Australia’s most successful and admired Olympic champions, Freeman is a role model for girls and women throughout the country and the world. Since the end of a sports career that saw her win Olympic and world titles over 400m, she has concentrated her time on making a difference to young Australians through the Cathy Freeman Foundation (CFF) and lending her support to other community and charitable activities.

As founder and director, Freeman is the driving force behind the CFF, which aims to bridge the education gap between indigenous and non-indigenous children, ensuring they all share a strong sense of self-belief and access to opportunities in life. Through her ambassadorial, charitable and personal support of a range of humanitarian causes, she embodies the spirit of Olympism, and is a role model for all Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous.

The World Trophy went to the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC), which made history for its long-standing efforts promoting women in sport that resulted in strong female representation on its board, within its senior management and on its Olympic teams. The NZOC has long been at the forefront of championing change to ensure that women have a prominent role in sport, on and off the field of play. Particular attention has been paid to increasing the number of women representing the country at the Olympic Games and in decision-making and leadership positions, not only within the NOC, but also in other sports organisations in the country.

Kereyn Smith, secretary-general of the NZOC, told the audience she was delighted to come from a nation where sport is playing a role in creating gender balance. “We believe gender balance leads to better decision-making, better organisations and ultimately a better society,” Smith said.

IOC Women in Sport Commission Chair Lydia Nsekera congratulated the winners for their achievements. “This year’s winners have something in common. They all want to make the world a better place through sports. On and off the field of play they are working together to make sure that through sports women can play an important role. We still have a long road to travel. But working together we will get there. ”

Jordan’s Prince Faisal Al-Hussein, president of the Jordanian Olympic Committee, told the Weekly that he was impressed to see two Arab sports women win two of the trophies.

“Well, they are not the first women from the Arab world to win the award, but the fact that to have one from Africa and the other from Asia together in one year is great. I think it reinforces the real strides we made in the Arab world in dealing with the rights of women to play and the encouraging them to be actively involved in sports. I think this will be fantastic for the Arab society where women can have the chance to play alongside with men and should be given every opportunity to participate in the development of their societies. I am hoping that this trend would continue [so that we can say] we are in the right direction,” Prince Faisal, member of the IOC executive committee said, adding he was optimistic about the future of women in sport in the region.

“There is no reason not to be optimistic about the future of women and sports in the region. You know we are seeing women playing great roles in other sides of the society so why not sports? I think sports teach women so much especially working about perseverance, about team work and interaction. These are all things that they can use in their societies. These are all things you would want to teach your children and these are the future mothers that can teach the right values in their children from their own experience in sports. So, I cannot see a future where this wouldn’t be, and it would be a disaster if the Arab world went backwards”.

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