Societal pressures still hindering women sports

For Jordanian women athletes, road to stardom often solo and obstacle-ridden

yasmin khair
Yasmin Khair, Professional football player and former gymnastics star (Photo: JNews)
Medals and glories have begun piling up for Jordanian women athletes in recent years, be it in individual or team sports, but athletes say that support for women sports in the Kingdom is lacking, to say the least, leaving them to sometimes take solo, obstacle-ridden journeys to achieve victories for Jordan.اضافة اعلان

Professional football player and former gymnastics star Yasmin Khair, 34, cites “absence of support” as one of the main reasons for the small number of women sport stars in the Kingdom.

“This is not necessarily financial support; there are other things that women athletes need in terms of sound study and planning of their future, to ensure continuous achievements,” Khair told Jordan News in a recent interview.

Age also comes into play, according to Khair.

“I’ve been both a gymnast and a football player. Each sport, whether an individual or a team sport, is different. For a gymnast, the virtual career is short, which leads to women retiring early, while football goes on for anyone who is still able to go on, meaning that physical fitness allows women to stay longer on the field,” the athlete said.

The winner of the 1991 Pan Arab Games gymnastics gold and six other medals in the 2004 games of Algeria also spoke of society’s view of women athletes as another key impact. “Society’s view of women athletes has improved… in the past, they used to get support from their families and loved ones, but today, they are starting to gain good standing in the community.”

Likewise, the absence of support and the suspension of holding tournaments led to the early retirement of basketball player Dina Halaseh, at the age of 31. Today, she heads the women committee of the Jordan Basketball Federation, and is a member of its board of directors.

“Large clubs did not support women athletes, and former federations have failed to form a women’s basketball team for 10 years… Back then, we used to play 10 games a year, while today, women play some 60 games a season, which comes to show that we should be patient to reap the fruit of our work and take the podium,” Halaseh told Jordan News.

The former basketballer expressed deep regret for the absence of media support during her athletic days, noting the lack of “calculated coverage” of women sports in all media platforms, with all spotlights on men sports.

“But the scene is improving today, and all that remains is achievement,” Halaseh noted.

Halaseh believes that the retirement age for women athletes can be raised to 40, narrowing the gap between men and women athletes, if there were to be success in creating incentives and providing various forms of support.

For her part, mixed martial artist Lina Fayyadh cites lack of support of all kinds, including financial and moral, as an obstacle to the success of Jordanian women in any form of sports, noting that if it was not for the support of her family, she would not have carried on with such a difficult sport for 20 years.

“The training of women is different than that of men, and there are no tournaments with a clear agenda for developing the general performance of women athletes, not to mention that there is no federation acting as an explicit umbrella for this sport, so I mostly take part in foreign tournaments on an individual capacity. This absence of support constituted an obstacle for me in achieving my dream of qualifying for the Olympics and earning a win for Jordan,” Fayyadh said.

For Fayyadh, the way society views women athletes and the gender inequality in sports in terms of training and support was a motivation that pushed her towards success, she said, citing a vehement attack and many instances of verbal abuse throughout her career. “It motivated me to prove myself, and showed me that I’m on the right track.”

With more optimism than that of her fellow women athletes, Asia taekwondo champion and Olympic gold medalist of 2012 Nadine Dawani, cites “clear advancement of women sports in Jordan, evident in the achievements of women in many sports, including combat sports,” she told Jordan News.

“I realize that it was difficult for society to accept the idea of women in combat sports in the past, but there is a rise in the number of women playing sports professionally, and there is a good number of women athletes in every sport and in each age category,” Dawani added.

The athlete commended the role of Jordan in women sports, deeming the Kingdom a pioneer on the Arab level in that field. “Neighboring countries always seek the assistance of our cadres, to make use of the expertise of Jordanian women athletes,” Dawani said.

Dawani was in agreement with other Jordanian women athletes however, regarding the early retirement age of women athletes, especially in light of society’s expectations for women after marriage, which push women athletes to retire at an early age.

“The result of this is that we see a larger number of young women athletes than that of older ones, which is a big problem for women sports, both in Jordan and in the Arab world,” Dawani said.