Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Crossfit in the UAE

Bodybuilding, it was reported recently, is taking off in the United Arab Emirates, and there was more than a little (English and Arabic language) media coverage given to Dubai-based personal trainer Haifa Musawi, aka "the first Gulf Arab female bodybuilder", at the start of this year. Now comes news that Emirati women are taking up Crossfit in ever-increasing numbers. And crucially, unlike the female bodybuilders, it's a sport in which they are able to compete for their country.

The name at the forefront of Emirati women's Crossfit is Nuha Almarri, the first woman from the UAE to have competed in international events. There were very few Arab girls initially, she says. I clearly remember in 2014 there were only seven Arab girls competing in Kuwait at the Battle of the East. That number went to 10 the following year. The interest is growing and more Arab girls are being drawn to the sport and even taking it up as a profession.
Nuha competes in her first Crossfit competition, August 2014

Her passion for sport was ignited at school, where she did gymnastics, then basketball and athletics, and while doing her Business Management degree in Dubai she continued to run, and also started weight training. Then, in 2013, she discovered Crossfit and was immediately hooked. I like the challenge it provides, she says.

If you are waiting for the "overcame cultural prejudice about women in sport" bit, then here it comes - she found it quite difficult to convince her mother that Crossfit was the profession for her. But over a period of time she realised that my heart and soul is in it, says Nuha. When your family starts backing you in what you do, then things become a lot easier. And Nuha's sister, Latifa, has also taken up the sport.
Nuha (centre) with sister Latifa (left)

Latifa says that she was "into Muay Thai" before she discovered Crossfit "was more fun", and if this isn't sounding like the kind of story you would expect to hear when reading about Emirati women and sport, then believe me, it isn't the kind of story I expected to be writing! Where's the prejudice?! Where's the struggle?!

Actually, the Almarri sisters do acknowledge they haven't had it as tough as the majority of Emirati women, and the numbers actually participating in Crossfit and Crossfit competitions are hardly earth-shattering. But when you consider that just a few years ago the number of women would have been zero, you can see why organisers like Dunia Khaleel are getting excited about the future. The sport is making giant strides within the UAE, she says. Around 15 Emirati women athletes participated in the Abu Dhabi Throwdown. We didn’t do any advertising for the event and still so many ladies came, and we had competitors from Qatar and Oman as well.
Nuha at the recent Abu Dhabi Throwdown

This all sounds rather hopeful - and not at all what I would have expected to find in a country and region that my own ideas about clearly need recalibrating. I want to qualify for all the major CrossFit tournaments globally and try and win medals there, says Nuha Almarri. My goal is to put UAE on the map and show that UAE women are not behind in anything. She can already count me as shown!


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