LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

Abu Dhabi 2016 | SPORTS | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Chairwoman of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA), on encouraging women to participate in sports from the grass roots to the professional level.

HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan,
BIOGRAPHY
HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has been chairing the Board of Directors of the Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA) since March 2011. From this position, Sheikha Fatima Bint Hazza carries forward the vision of HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, Mother of the Nation, to empower Emirati women to succeed as individuals and strengthen their role as members of the community.

In the UAE, women's employment remains at around 27%. How do you assess the importance of developing the role of women in society through sport?

Sport goes beyond physical wellness and fosters social development and sustainability. HH Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak, the Mother of the Nation, has made it a lifelong mission to provide opportunities to Emirati women in every sector of social activity. By establishing various entities dedicated to women's development, she has paved a path to realize the vision of the UAE as a modern state. The Fatima Bint Mubarak Ladies Sports Academy (FBMA) is an embodiment of this vision. The last five years of development since the birth of the academy have created numerous opportunities not only for athletes but for female referees, coaches, and administrators. Most recently FBMA has been named the headquarters of the Women Committee of the Gulf Sport Media Association (GSMA), which is expected to lead to a rise in female sport reporters and media personnel as well. The academy aims to give women an active role in the sports industry, inspiring them to pursue a more active role in society. Moreover, through a dedicated education and research department, the academy maintains a dynamic role in empowering women through organizing regular seminars and certification programs in collaboration with local and international specialized entities. It is our fundamental belief that physical education can lead to self-empowerment and social growth, and that in turn will create more employment opportunities for women.

The FBMA caters for a wide range of sports, including contact sport. How important is it to offer choices to generate greater engagement with women in sport?

The objective being to increasingly get more people interested and involved, it is critical that a variety of options is provided to cater to preferences across the spectrum. If sports are perceived as an activity suitable only for a certain portion of the population, which meets specific age, physical levels, and appearance criteria, then it automatically becomes exclusive. FBMA operates on precisely the opposite idea. We believe that sports should be inclusive and that there is a sport for everyone who is willing to get out there and make the commitment to being active. This is why on an annual basis we host a mixture of events, aiming to expose Emiratis to different sports, and ultimately spark their interest in identifying and taking up a sport of their liking. Along with the training sessions and events that we organize in show-jumping, figure-skating, running, volleyball, football, basketball, bowling and recently golf, to name but a few, this year the academy presented its “ADIB PasSport by FBMA," initiative, a program in partnership with ADIB and the Abu Dhabi Education Council (ADEC) through which we were able to expose 1,800 school girls ages 10-12 from government schools across the Emirate to a wide range of sports that they might not have had the chance to try before such as archery and table tennis. This way not only do we funnel girls' interest into the programs that FBMA runs, but there is the overall benefit of triggering their interest in sport as a lifestyle.

What programs are being curated to develop the professional level of women in sport?

The academy's main pillars of work include sport events organization, community engagement activities, education and research programs, local talent management, and the biennial International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW). FBMA also caters for elite athletes and aspires to be a catalyst in their professional development. A great example of this is the FBMA Elite Athletes Program, which was run for the first time this May. The program brought together renowned professionals, academics, and international elite athletes to share with Emirati athletes their insights and experiences from the realm of professional sports. Designed to examine in depth the areas of sport sociology and sport psychology, the program provided athletes with the theoretical and practical tools to progress in their journey as elite athletes.

The FBMA Ladies Open is the newest event to the calendar for the academy. Why was golf the right sport in which to create an international event there in Abu Dhabi?

Abu Dhabi is establishing itself as a prime sports tourism destination. Our research has exposed very positive feedback from sports tourists visiting Abu Dhabi throughout the year, and it is within FBMA's mission to enhance Abu Dhabi's profile as a sports destination. Moreover, the Emirate is known to be a paramount location for golf, given its pristine golf courses and a large number of golf enthusiasts across the country. We believe the FBMLO is the perfect event to generate the same enthusiasm for ladies golf. The academy is currently also running golf trainings for Emirati women of all ages and levels aiming to further increase local female interest in the sport, whether it would be eventually practiced on a professional level or even as a hobby.