Mariam Farid, a member of the Qatari National track and field team, wants to be an inspiration to young females from Qatar and across the region

Those of us who are fortunate to call Qatar our home know well what a diverse and cosmopolitan place it is. Living here provides us with many opportunities to learn and grow as individuals in our sense of openness to the varied and fascinating ways of life, cultures and the deeply human personal stories that surround us daily– letting go of our perceived differences and the conditioned labels and judgements.

Society’s Katya Hvass visited the Qatar Olympic Committee office to meet with Mariam Farid, a 19-year-old top track and field athlete and a member of the Qatari National Team, to learn her insider perspective on the world of sports in Qatar, and what it means to be a female athlete here.

From the first moments of our conversation, Mariam’s confidence and a sense of purpose are so apparent. As somebody, who is used to being in the public eye from a young age – she is open and engaging with the air of quiet softness, warmth and sincerity.

She is highly motivated and focused, when it comes to her athletic performance and cares deeply about the broader agenda surrounding the sport.

Mariam, specialised discipline is running. She is a sprinter and multiple national record-holder in 400m hurdles, 200m and 60m indoors.

She speaks affectionately about her family, who has always been encouraging and supportive of her endeavours, including her athletic career. Her four siblings participated in various sports throughout their school years, and Mariam’s mother is sporty too. She resides in West Bay district of Doha with her parents, who are doctors as well as entrepreneurs running successful medical clinics, while her three brothers and sister are currently studying abroad.

Mariam participated in a variety of sports at school from an early age, but says that she was never really drawn to team sports. She enjoys taking part in relay events, but, overall, prefers the individual disciplines that rely on personal resources, focus and motivation.

Introduced to running through the sports classes at her school, she consistently showed good results among her fellow students. At the age of 15, while participating in an athletic event at the Aspire complex, she had been “talent-spotted” by a coach from the National Team and was subsequently invited to join them.

Mariam reflects that her involvement in sport encourages her to preserve a helpful sense of direction, when it comes to healthy living and other positive life choices. It helps her maintain a better schedule, diet, outlook and the overall balance in her life. “Who knows, what kind of mischief I would have got into otherwise, as a teenager,” she jokes.

She trains six days a week both at the outdoor Al Saad Stadium and at the indoor facility at the Aspire Park. The two-hour sessions start with a warm-up followed by various types of practice in accordance with athletes’ specific programmes. Two sessions a week are dedicated to the general physical fitness.

To make it easier on the runners, the training sessions take place in the cooler times of the day, and during the summer the team also trains at sport camps in other countries. “As somebody who is born and raised in Qatar, I can tolerate the hotter conditions well,” smiles Mariam. “I can run pretty much in any temperature.”

International athletics events in Qatar
Qatar’s development and the strengthening of its role on the international arena, including the high-profile sports events, present young Qataris with unique opportunities to develop and shine at the very top level. Mariam believes that hosting of the key sports events in Qatar gives a huge boost to the young athletes here, providing them with the invaluable motivation and the sense of pride and accomplishment.

These events present essential opportunities to shine a spotlight on women’s sport in Qatar: “We have to show the younger generation that Arab women in Qatar and across the GCC can do sports and that there are girls from Qatar playing athletics and competing… We do train every day, and we work hard to achieve our goals.”
Mariam showed excellent results at the GCC Women’s Games in Doha that took place in March 2017, where she won silver and bronze medals. She feels that this all-female event has a special importance for the region because “it shows how girls are improving and how their countries are empowering them to come and play sport internationally”.

Early in May 2017, local sports fans enjoyed the major international tournament – the Doha meeting of the IAAF (International Association of Athletics Federations) Diamond League that took place at the Qatar Sports Club for the eighth time. The atmosphere in the packed stadium was electric with a great energy emerging from the crowd of Qatari fans and expats from a wide range of countries. The local athletes found the experience deeply rewarding – competing among the sport’s global superstars and in front of the home crowd.

“We do exist as athletes and we are able to compete and achieve our goals. We want to make people proud of our culture, traditions and everything that we do”

At the moment, Doha is getting ready to host the World Championships in Athletics in 2019. At just 16, Mariam became an integral part of Qatar’s bid for her sport’s biggest event by lending her passion and energy and making a powerful speech to the decision-makers at the crucial final stage of the selection process.

Mariam spoke about the significant impact that she felt hosting the world’s third largest sporting event would have on the perception and development of women’s sport across the Middle East, and this is something that she continues to strongly promote

Her contribution facilitated bringing World Championships to the Middle East for the first time in history, and she describes it as “the best experience of my entire life and something I will always be proud of.” Competing in the event in 2019 will be a big milestone in Mariam’s athletic career: “I’m waiting for the day I compete in 2019 here in Qatar, because it is something I worked hard for”.

Women’s Sports in Qatar and the Middle East
Mariam is hoping to be a role model to young women in Qatar and the wider region and hopes that her own determination will inspire them to realise their true potential in sport or any other field they might choose.

Talking about the female participation in sport and the perceived obstacles to it, she feels that it is largely a matter of perspective. “Historically, even in Ancient Greece women were excluded from competing,” she notes. Every society travels along a distinct path at its own pace. From her own journey, she knows that in Qatar the young women are actively encouraged to take part and compete, and there is a wide range of facilities and opportunities that is available in the country to make this happen.

There is an issue of more traditional local attitudes with some families feeling unsure about their female relatives participating in sports at a higher level. Some of them might be worried about violation of privacy that the inevitable public exposure might cause. Other parents simply hope to see their children concentrate their energies in other areas, such as business activities or a particular subject of study. All families are different and all, naturally, have private perspectives based on their views and backgrounds. According to Mariam, most importantly, the real opportunities, support and encouragement are present in Qatar as a vital foundation for further development of women’s sports here.

Another ongoing challenge is addressing the preconceptions and attitudes of the international sports community, when it comes to female athletes from the Middle East participating in the events outside the region. Some sports still have rules that restrict the use of the head covering by female athletes. Often, these regulations do not reflect cultural prejudice, they are prompted by practical concerns of health and safety in some sports, especially the team ones, like basketball, where the physical contact between players is often unavoidable and additional clothing can create unsafe and disputable situations.

Regardless of the various considerations and reasoning, it seems that the world of international sport would benefit from an honest and open dialogue about these issues with a high degree of sensitivity and understanding towards the various perspectives and points of view.
Mariam puts it herself “We want to show the world that wearing the hijab does not mean that we cannot compete internationally. We do exist as athletes and we are able to compete and achieve our goals. We want to make people proud of our culture, our traditions and everything that we do.”

Academic path and other interests
Mariam is hoping to enjoy many more productive years in the sports arena, but her achievements are not limited to athletics. She has just completed her foundation year at the Northwestern University in Doha and will be starting on a degree in Communications or Journalism there in the autumn.

She has many ideas about what she might want to do in the future, one of them being a business venture around making the specialised running footwear more accessible to the public in Qatar, which will encourage wider sports participation.

We at Society Magazine, would like to wish Mariam every success in the future with her sports training and other projects. There is no doubt that this amazing young woman will bring her lively energy and passion to everything she does, and that she will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration to many people – of all ages and backgrounds