Tue, 29 November 2022
The Daily Ittefaq

She's training men: Bahrain hoopster breaks the mould

Update : 10 Oct 2022, 18:20

It's an unusual sight in the conservative Gulf state of Bahrain: a young mother in an indoor basketball court is instructing the male players.

Fatima Reyadh has overcome prejudices to become the assistant coach of Al-Najma basketball club in the capital Manama -- and she doesn't plan to stop there.

The 33-year-old, who is also a Taekwondo black belt, aims to become head coach of the basketball team one day and then bring home the national championship.

"When I began my career, there wasn't the same level of acceptance as there is today," she said during a training session with her seven-year-old daughter in tow.

"The presence of women in sport was seen as bizarre, especially in basketball, which was considered the preserve of men," said Reyadh, sporting black leggings and a baggy grey T-shirt.

"There were concerns at first, but through hard work and dedication I've shown that doubts about my ability to lead the squad were unfounded."

Today, she thinks of herself like "just any other basketball coach -- I believe in myself".

Several countries in the region have sought to soften a hardline image in recent years, promoting women more in the workforce, the arts and in sport.

But it is unusual for a woman to rise to the top, and in the conservative Arab monarchies of the Gulf, Reyadh's position is astounding.

- 'Bold choice' -

Reyadh inherited a passion for the game from her mother, who coached a women's basketball squad.

She began by training a team of young girls, then young boys, before being recruited by Al-Najma.

Choosing her was "a bold and at the same time quite frightening choice", said the club's technical director Raouf Habil.

"Communication was a bit difficult at first with the players, but in time it got a lot easier," he told AFP.

Society in Bahrain is considered a lot more open than in other Gulf states.

Official figures show that women, who make up 32 percent of the economically active population, held 54 percent of civil service posts between 2010 and 2019.

Of the government's 24 ministers, four are women, although none holds a key portfolio.

Hussein Shaker, one of Al-Najma's players, is unwavering in his support for the team's female coach.

"The talented Fatima Reyadh is an example of successful Bahraini women," he said.

He said he hopes for "more examples" of women working with male teams in his country, stressing that "I'm all for women in sport".

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