In the last few years, the presence of Qatari women in the sports industry has been growing. We now see Qatari women participating in international tournaments and winning in them. There is also a group of women who work in sports organizations to strengthen the role of women in the sports industry and promote a healthy lifestyle within society. They work to ensure the continued prosperity of women in sports and seek to create opportunities for them. In this interview, we talk to Lolwa Hussein Al Marri, the President of Qatar Women’s Sports Committee, who plays a major role in supporting and developing women’s sports in Qatar. So, who is Lolwa Hussein Al-Marri?
I graduated from Qatar University with a major in Physical Education. After graduating from university, I worked as a physical education teacher. I am very fond of that period of my career. After teaching, I worked in the organizing Committee for the 2006 Asian Games. It was the first time Qatar was hosting the Asian games. During the games, I was able to meet guests from various countries. Working in the Committee was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life. After the event ended, I went back to teaching. However, I always wanted to go back to working in organizing tournaments and competitions. Thus, I started working for the Qatar Olympic Committee and volunteering in Qatari Women’s Sports Committee. After that, I became the Secretary General in 2008 for two Olympic rounds. I was nominated to be the President of the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee after that. I obtained an Executive Master’s degree in Sport Organizations Management from the University of Poitiers in France. I won the sponsorship for the program from the International Olympic Committee. The subject for my master’s degree was a strategic plan for the Qatari Women’s Sports Committee. I traveled to four different cities to complete the paper. The final thesis was presented in Lausanne, Switzerland. At that time, I was working in the Olympic Committee and studying at the same time. Although there were periods of high pressure and heavy work, it was an enriching and beautiful experience.
How did your journey start in the sports field?
My love for sports started when I was in school. However, I faced the problem that society viewed sports as a hobby only and not as a field for women to work in. When I went to university, my father insisted that I major in the English Language because he was interested in languages, and he used to tell me to play sports in my spare time. So, I ended up studying English for two years. However, my father and I were always in conflict with each other because I wanted to change my major. In the end, I managed to convince him, and I changed my major to Physical Education. It was a good time for the shift because it was during that time that Qatar started hosting many competitions. Furthermore, the interest in women and women’s sports was increasing, so the state needed experts in that field.
How was your experience as a Physical Education (PE) teacher?
I taught PE in an all girls primary school. One of the things that I will never forget is how the students would run away from all their teachers, except for the PE teacher. They would run towards her. Even when I substituted for other classes, the students were still happy to see their PE teacher. It was a wonderful feeling. Children at this young age love to play, and they have the energy they want to release. My teaching period is one that I will never forget; it was one of my best memories.
Why did you decide to stop teaching?
Working in the Organizing Committee of the Asian Games in 2006 motivated me to change my job. During the event, there were many visitors from different countries, and I loved communicating with them and learned a lot from them. When the Asian Games finished and we all went back to work, I realized that I wanted to return to that field. I met people from the Olympic Committee by coincidence; they said they wanted me to work with them. I was happy and left my teaching job and started working in the Olympic Committee.
What is the role of the Qatar Women’s Sports Committee?
The Committee’s goal is to develop community sports by raising awareness, changing their lifestyle into a healthier one, and making sports a part of their daily lives. The other area that the Committee works on is professional sports, which includes preparing female players to participate in tournaments and competitions and representing Qatar abroad in the best way possible. I believe women can be successful outside their house and at the same time maintain their traditions and customs. We faced many challenges due to the spread of Covid-19. Most of our activities are now conducted via social media platforms, and leagues have stopped. We took the initiative to create training sessions for our female athletes and create community-wide events through these platforms to urge girls and women to maintain their healthy lifestyles. We had to stop the football, basketball, and handball leagues, but we will resume them soon. At the beginning of the pandemic, we also did the first Cross Fit championship for women. It was a successful event as a lot of people participated in it. We plan to launch it again. Also, we provide nutrition advice, yoga, and fitness courses throughout the year. The public can find them on our Instagram. Currently, we do online courses, but when the situation improves, we will return to our normal activity.
Have you experienced any difficulties in your career?
We have experienced many difficulties. One of them is attracting girls to sports and forming a team. It is not easy, especially in the beginning, when communicating with parents and trying to convince them. However, every obstacle we face makes us stronger. We learned from the experiences that we went through. We were able to establish a strong relationship with the players and their families. We even celebrate with them on different occasions, such as Mother’s Day. We built their trust in the Olympic Committee and us, so communication with parents has become easier. Another issue that we face is when the players decide to join university and continue their higher education. They start thinking of how they will balance between education and career. This stage is difficult, but we try as much as we can to stay in touch with the athletes. In addition, when they start going to university, we try to make their studies easier for them by appointing tutors for them and creating flexible training times. Also, we try to communicate with the university and build a strong relationship with them to find solutions to make it easier on the player. Even those who study abroad, we try to provide them with training facilities within their universities to continue training.
Do you think that women are more encouraged to join sports nowadays?
Of course, women are now participating in all fields. However, they might face various challenges. There is the issue of people’s view towards sports; some people view sports as a rough industry that is most fit for men, and it’s difficult for women to be a part of it. But when a woman has a clear goal, she will achieve it while respecting her traditions. However, society’s views has changed from before. We used to face difficulties finding female athletes, but now even in the competitions, the players’ parents, or husbands, are there to support them. Furthermore, the number of participants has increased in the competitions, whether in the field of community sport or even in professional sport. In general, society’s views have changed greatly.
Can you tell us about a memory you are fond of?
One of my favorite memories is our participation in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Qatari Women’s Sports Committee was established in 2000, and we have come a long way. This was Qatar’s first participation in the Olympic Games, and I was responsible for the women’s delegation, which was made up of four Qatari female players: Aya Majdi in table tennis, Noor al-Malki in athletics, Nada Arakji in swimming, and Bahiya Al-Hamad in shooting. One of the female players was chosen to lead the team in the show, which happened for the first time. Bahiya was the player chosen to lean during the opening. The Olympics were one of my most beautiful memories. Other memories are related to my children Abdulaziz and Jawaher. Although I was focused on my work at the beginning, my children filled my life with so much joy. One of my favorite memories is our participation in the 2012 Olympic Games in London. The Qatari Women’s Sports Committee was established in 2000, and we have come a long way. This was Qatar’s first participation in the Olympic Games, and I was responsible for the women’s delegation, which was made up of four Qatari female players: Aya Majdi in table tennis, Noor al-Malki in athletics, Nada Arakji in swimming, and Bahiya Al-Hamad in shooting. One of the female players was chosen to lead the team in the show, which happened for the first time. Bahiya was the player chosen to lean during the opening. The Olympics were one of my most beautiful memories. Other memories are related to my children Abdulaziz and Jawaher. Although I was focused on my work at the beginning, my children filled my life with so much joy.
How did the love of volunteering come to exist in your life?
I have been volunteering in tournaments hosted in Qatar since I was in school. I have always worked closely with federations. I volunteered at the Grand Prix (Fencing tournament), the 11th Arabian Gulf Cup, and the Gulf Games. Also, when I was in university, I volunteered in fencing and athletics tournaments. Also, I used to volunteer in Qatar’s Diabetes Association because I have two sisters who have suffered from diabetes since childhood. I got to know the association through them, so I volunteered to learn more. They had a camp that was called (Al-Bawasil) which held many activities for young school students. They wanted someone to do sports activities for children, and I loved doing that. Volunteering helps to develop the person and builds a sense of responsibility and love for work. Qatar Women’s Sports Committee works under the umbrella of the Qatar Olympic Committee, and those who wish to volunteer can do so through us or any entity that conducts events for women, such as Aspire. We are ecstatic when girls come to volunteer in organizing, training, or even to participate in competitions.
Can you tell us about people who impacted your life significantly?
My father – may Allah have mercy on him and forgive him- had a great influence on the way I work. He is the one who taught me that a person must have integrity in their work regardless of what they are facing and to always keep in mind the fear of Allah. Eventually, everything will be fine. When I was working in the Olympic Committee, I was preparing for my diploma, and then I prepared for my master’s degree while working. My father always supported me during those times. He would have been very proud of me if he saw what I have achieved now. It is beautiful when a person has a family member supporting them. It will have a positive impact on that person’s life. There is one more person who had an influence on my life as well. The person who oversaw me during the Asian Games, a Greek man called Stratos. I will never forget him, as I learned a great deal from his experience.
What is your advice for women in Qatar?
I would like to advise them to work hard to achieve their goals and do not let anyone dictate what you can achieve. They should always work hard and sincerely. I am very proud of Qatari women, they are full of potential, even if it is not highlighted.
- Interview written by Lolwa Al Saigh.
- Interview was edited to improve readability and flow.