Women brilliance hidden no longer

Saudi female fencer revels in new-found glory


Saudi Gazette

THE first Saudi woman to fence for the Kingdom at the 2016 Olympics has explained her delight in having an image of her projected on to the Kingdom Tower in Riyadh to celebrate Saudi National Day 2017.

Lubna Al-Omair told Saudi Gazette that having her image on the tower was an honor.

“That moment was amazing. You could be fighting for more sports and then all of a sudden you realize that the government is actually supporting you. In fact, it sends a strong message to the world that female Saudi athletes are no longer celebrated behind closed doors,” she said.

“This is proof that Saudi women are real, ambitious and strong. Their government supports them. I felt so happy and optimistic when I saw my picture displayed on the Kingdom Tower,” she added.

Al-Omair has an MA in Business Information Technology and was the first female Saudi fencer to participate in the Olympics. “Before traveling to the United States, I had made a list of goals that I wanted to achieve. One of my goals was to be a fencer,” she said.

The young Saudi was inspired to take up fencing after watching the sport on TV in her teens.

“I was around 16 or 17 and then thought of trying it out. In fact, the fencing experience turned out much better than I had thought or imagined. During that time, I was just moving to the US and feeling a bit distracted. Fencing actually helped me to settle down in this new environment.

“Fencing helped me to become more confident. If you understand fencing, you will realize it is a unique sport. As a matter of fact, I never expected to participate in the Olympics. It was one of my best experiences ever,” she said.

Some people think fencing is a violent sport. Al-Omair, however, disagrees.

“Fencing teaches you more than it takes from you. I do not believe that fencing promotes violence. If you ask people who know me, they will say that I am a peaceful person. I rarely get into a fight. Fencing challenges you and allows you to direct your energy and anger in a useful direction,” she said.

Al-Omair has also participated in the Arab Women Sports Tournament that took place in Sharjah 2016.

In 2017, the Kingdom’s Education Minister Ahmed Al-Isa announced that the Ministry of Education is introducing physical education at girls’ schools in Saudi Arabia. There are, however, some people in Saudi society who do not support girls doing sports in schools.

“The interest is there, especially among ladies,” said Al-Omair, adding, “I have met and talked to many ladies so I know that a lot of women are interested in living healthy lives full of sports. It has now become official that the government is indeed supporting us. On the other hand, if we are realistic, then, of course, there are people in society who do not accept women participating in sports.”

She added, “Some of these people reject all change, regardless of whether it is positive or negative. You will always find negative people trying to put you down. I can say that at least from the people I know and the community I interact with there is a huge support for what is going on.”

Commenting on which kind of sports should be introduced in girls’ schools, Al-Omair said, “I support any kind of sports that young people are interested in. I have my own child and I won’t force him to do fencing just because I love fencing. Instead, I would introduce him to different sports and then give him the chance to choose the sport he likes.”

For Al-Omair’s son, sports are not optional but a must.

“I would not force him to become a professional athlete, but encourage him in the least to make sports a part of his life. I hope the children of today would be introduced to sports from an early age so that they can live healthier lifestyles,” Al-Omair said, adding that she is keen to promote fencing in Saudi Arabia while continuing with her own training.

She also offered some advice to Saudi women. “I would like to say that if you have something in mind and that thing is not harmful to others, then do it and keep on doing it. Don’t look behind. Try your best to achieve your goals no matter how little support or no support you get from the people around you. As long as what you are doing has a good impact on you and your society then eventually, you will gain the support,” she said, adding that women who want to pursue a goal should do so but should not disobey their parents when doing so.

“My family, in the beginning, were not supportive of me fencing. They are like any other parents who are worried that this might affect my studies or work. I just kept on trying more and more persuading them but without being rude or going against them. I tried to convince them of how important this is for my wellbeing and I graduated with honors, which actually convinced them even more. Do what you wish to achieve but also remember to respect your parents, family, and the people around you,” she said.

Al-Omair said when she went to the Olympics, she found both her husband and her parents very supportive. “My husband played a big part in supporting me. Just two days after getting married, he walked me to the practice in Dhahran Fencing Club, which is the club I co-founded in 2014. He even was there for me when I went to the Olympics and gave me a big support. Moreover, Princess Reema Bint Bander was one of the first Saudi officials who supported me and that was amazing. She supported me and the Saudi team before even being officially appointed. Of course, I received some negative feedback but that was not from my own family. In fact, I somehow sympathized with the people who send me negative and rude messages. I actually feel stronger and more confident when I read them,” she said.

She added that she would like more sports in the Kingdom, for people to lead more healthy lifestyles and for Saudi women to achieve well. “I hope that what I did gives other Saudi women the power and strength to push forward and show the world what they are capable of,” said Al-Omair.

“I would like to add that I do not just focus on sports, I actually care about my family, husband and child. I would like to return their favor to me and support them as they have always supported me. I want to encourage each member of my family and support them to fulfill their dreams,” she added.