There were 1000+ women at the inaugural Dubai Women’s 5k Fun Run. And it was fantastic to see so many women up and ready for the start gun on a Friday morning. Women of all shapes, sizes, ages and abilities – but all looking eager to get going and excited for the off.
Held at Mamzar Park, the course was an A to B 5000 metres from one end of the lagoon bordering Sharjah, to the Corniche right next to Mamzar Park. Lovely though it was, the course might have benefited from a bit of shade or perhaps an earlier start time – rather than the 8am one we had. An out and back course might have logistically been better too, but that’s by the by. Although a punctual horn sounded us off, it was all rather hot in all of say, 5 mins, but I hazard a guess that was more to do with the police pitching up with their all-important cones when they had finished a leisurely Weetabix or two, rather than bad planning.
A generous prize purse of AED 10,000 guaranteed that people of serious talent would be turning out for the occasion, but I was truly shocked to read that places 1, 2 and 3 went to UAE nationals. Well, when I say UAE nationals, of course I don’t really mean UAE nationals. I mean, adoptive nationals, i.e. young Ethiopian girls who have been paid, one assumes, vast amounts of money to represent the UAE, so it can perhaps have a stab at the medal podium at the approaching Asian Games.
I’m not quite sure why the UAE feels it necessary to ‘cheat’ in this way. Because it is cheating, whichever way you look at it. I am positive there must be some young Emirati women out there desperate to make their way in the world of athletics? There just must be. It’s sad to think a nation like the UAE, with so many world class sports facilities and access to some of the best coaching in the world cannot manage to home-grow some talent, in not just athletics, but so many sports disciplines.
An interest in sport is nurtured from a young age, and culturally I do understand that it must be difficult for young girls to have their talent spotted or to practice it should they find they have a gift for sport. Schools here just don’t allow young girls the opportunity to explore their athletic side, nor do they encourage it. It doesn’t seem to be an important part of life – but I disagree. My school incorporated so much sport into our timetable – it’s what I remember most about high school – certainly some of my fondest memories. Playing bloody hockey in freezing weather in the shortest gym skirt and airtex blouse, barely able to grip the stick with blue fingers … coming out of the baths, hair dripping with towels rolled under arms after a hard swim session to get your Bronze Medallion … or perhaps my most memorable, flying head first over the vaulting horse in an attempt at some simple gymnastic manoevre or other, but having caught my toes on the top resembled a raggedy superman rather than the elegant Olga Corbett I was going for. Oh those were the days. It’s where kids learn to play as a team, deal with disappointment, glory, discipline, and all kinds of emotions related to playing games not to mention instilling a sense of good health.
I grew up watching television with many sportswomen as role models. Women representing their country, proud to be winning medals in honour of it and their national squads. If the UAE continues to ‘buy-in’ talent, how can girls ever aspire to be winners for their country and in life? How can a country ever come together as one, if no-one has roots and a feeling of national pride?
Come on UAE, it’s time to stop spending money on guaranteed medals and start nurturing a nation of your own sports stars. It will no doubt take time, the podium will be out of reach for a good few years to come. But that’s all part of the journey and part of being proud to run for your country. Your OWN country.