The Arab Swimming Championships taking place at the Hamdan Sports Complex beginning today already kicked off with a monumental achievement.
Breaking previous traditional and religious barriers, 15-year-old Alia Al Shamsi of the Al Wasl Club will be the first-ever female swimmer to compete as a member of the United Arab Emirate’s national team. A swimmer for the past six years, Al Shamsi had previously only competed for her Repton School squad until she was selected by the UAE national team. She has since been training with the national team, specializing in the 50m and 100 breaststroke events, but will also compete in the 50m backstroke at the Arab championships.
Al Shamsi tells Sport 360, “I’m really happy to be the first Emirati to represent the UAE, it’s a huge honour for me.” She maturely acknowledged that, “It’s a big responsibility, and I hope I don’t disappoint.”
Mohamed El Zanaty, Al Shamsi’s coach, echoes the youngster’s vision that her efforts are just the beginning in a potential surge of girls following in her footsteps and joining team UAE. “She’s the first local swimmer in the history of UAE swimming. This is huge,” El Zanaty expressed to Sport 360. “We are trying to open the door for other women to join us. We’ve been training her for two and a half months and we are trying to get support for her to continue, and for more to follow suit. We’re waiting to see the reaction from the public when she swims tomorrow but so far so good.”
Other countries in the same region have been adding females to their rosters, albeit just as slowly. Kuwait’s Faye Sultan and Qatar’s Nada Arkaji represented their respective countries at the 2012 London Olympics, however, in Qatar’s case it was due to IOC enforcement of sending women in order to remain eligible for the Games as a whole.
Al Shamsi is staying grounded through the history-making feat, insisting that, “I won’t put pressure on myself in terms of clocking a certain time, I just want to do my best.”