Women in Sport: Worth Making the Effort

By Karima Wood 

In the past, sport was a leisure activity almost exclusively reserved for men but over the years, women have increasingly made their appearance in the world of sports. Today it seems that girls and women are accepted in the sports world, yet there are groups of girls and women who, because of socio-economic, cultural and other reasons cannot participate in sport. This discrepancy is mainly reflected in the lack of involvement of women in sports administrations, the degree to which female trainers and coaches are active in the sports world and the attention for women’s sport in the media.

My daughter played many years as a volleyball setter in the Barcelona women youth team. She says ‘Sport has taught me a lot,… love for people, respect, discipline, cooperation, and friendship‘. The positives for a child’s development to be part of a team are countless.  It improves their condition, aims in the elimination of obesity, is good for their self-confidence and teaches them to cope with emotions such as anger and sadness when losing. At a fairly young age parents can introduce children to different sports and it is a great opportunity for children to make new friends. Many gyms and clubs have a special offer for the youngest, such as kindergarten and pre-school judo for children around 4 years old. To get the full benefits of sport children should not be pushed too much: the fun will disappear quickly when they feel pressure to perform, especially if they are physically and mentally unready. If a child does not want to go to training once, this is not the end of the world. But they must realise that training is important to get better.

What about women? There are Arab women who participated in boxing matches, marathons and Olympic games. Women who were rejected and laughed at because they tried. These are the women who have made it possible for us to exercise how and when we want. Yet that freedom of sport is still not available to every woman.

Wojdan Shaherkan was one woman who followed her passion and dream at all costs. Against the will of others, she chose to exercise. Wodjan wrote history, she received a wildcard for the Olympic Games of 2012 and was the first woman from Saudi Arabia to perform at the Olympic stage. Wojdan is a judoka.  Her headscarf was the way to make her dream come true: joining the Olympic Games in London. The highest stage of the sport and a competition that people from all over the world watched.

However, not everyone found her participation in the games equally fantastic. Men in her country criticised and mocked her. The 16-year-old Wojdan consequently became caught up in a complicated international discussion when selected to participate in the Olympics. The Olympic Committee of her own country allowed her to join, on the proviso that she wore a headscarf. The International Judo Federation, however, was not on the same page and permission was not granted to enter the tatami with a headscarf. When her father heard she might not wear a headscarf, he didn’t want her to join the games. All this negative publicity was not the ideal preparation for such an important competition. And it got worse.…

The young athlete was also subject to discussions about women’s repression. Her participation with headscarf would support this oppression, said one side. But the other side claimed that the headscarf allowed her to do exactly what other women in her country could not. Her participation in the games was thus emancipation. Eventually Wojdan participated in an extra tight black headscarf that didn’t obstruct her in exercising her sport. While Wojdan achieved remarkable success by participating she unfortunately didn’t get far in the tournament.

Wojdans story is no exception, the Football Association has only permitted headscarves on the football field since 2012, prior to that women wearing headscarves were unable to play at a high level. This opens a complex debate, not only in Arab countries but also in the Western world. The image that many people have of Islam and sport is often one of ignorance. When considering Wojdan’s story this is not just a men’s affair and becomes more complex when women enter the arena.

There are multiple reasons to participate in sport, it is important for both your physical and mental condition. You should add sport into your to do list because:

  1. Sports lowers your heart rate

The heart is a muscle. The heart pumps cause more oxygen to be brought into the cells of your body. This can prolong your life for a number of years.

  1. Less chance of cardiovascular disease

Exercise reduces clumping of your blood, reducing the risk of heart disease. If blood vessels are silting, your heart must pump ever harder.

  1. Lower blood pressure

In poor condition, your blood pressure is already increasing at the smallest effort. High blood pressure causes problems in the long term, it is a real assassin.

  1. Weight control

By playing sports you are going to burn calories. This is the best diet for someone who want to lose weight. Move as much as possible.

  1. Reduced risk of cancer

In women with breast cancer, it has been proven that anyone who walked at least one hour a week had significant survival chances.

  1. Less risk of diabetes

By moving enough, you make sure that glucose can penetrate the cells better. Sports to prevent diabetes.

  1. Feel better in your skin

During exercise, more blood is pumped to your brain than normal. You can concentrate better and it promotes the production of new brain cells.

  1. Less stress

During stressful moments, your body produces stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Those people who play sport, their hormones perform faster, which in turn means less stress.

  1. Lower chance of depression

You can reduce fears and negative thoughts by exercising. In Psychiatry, sports are used more and more frequently as a form of therapy.

  1. Improving sleep

You may fall asleep faster, get deeper and sleep better.

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