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2012 Olympics a Landmark For Women’s Sports

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Here in America, women’s sports are a given. Often in this country and, even on this web site, we take for granted the competition going on and either dismiss it or shift our focus to the aesthetics of the female athletes competing. Even in this year’s Olympics, I suspect many eyes will be on US Soccer’s Hope Solo and Alex Morgan instead of our flag bearer, the top ranked fencer in the world, Mariel Zagunis.

However, not every country has that quantity of female athletes. In fact, some nations have even banned women from competing in the Olympics. Until now.

Prior to the 2012 games, three countries had restricted their female athletes from appearing in the games: Saudi Arabia, Brunei, and Qatar. That tradition is no more, as every participating nation will be represented with at least one female athlete.

Saudi Arabia have sent two female athletes to the Games; 800m runner Sarah Attar and Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani, who will be participating in the judo competition.

Brunei sends 400m hurdler Maziah Mahusin to break their nation’s gender barrier.

Representing Qatar are three athletes; swimmer Nada Arkaji, sprinter Noor al-Malki and, Qatar’s flag bearer, Bahiya al-Hamad (pictured above).

Allow me to preface the rest of this column by disclosing to you the fact that I normally hate the pageantry of things like the Olympics opening ceremony, but that even a cynic like myself couldn’t help but soften up at this one facet of the evening.

Now, most of these athletes were invited to the Olympics by the IOC to encourage equality in those nations, rather than on the merits of their accomplishments, but that is not what’s important here. With much of the spirit of the Games seemingly gone these days, this is a true example that the spirit of competition remains the most important thing to some.

Obviously, this is not the end of the fight for equality for women in the Middle East, both athletically and in other aspects of life, but in the photo above and in the pool, and on the track, and wherever these pioneers compete in these Games, there is finally a start. There is finally progress towards achieving the desired outcome of gender equality across the globe. If that doesn’t excite you, there is something wrong with you. And if that isn’t what the Olympics should be about, I don’t know what is.

And put yourself, if you will, in the shoes of those women tonight. Imagine how it must have felt to walk into that stadium and, in front of an audience of over one billion people, do something that nobody in your nation has ever done. Imagine waving your flag, and standing side by side with your male counterpart, an equal, while your countrymen and women watched you make history. Imagine inspiring girls around your country to aspire to more than what they have been told they were allowed to do previously. They were able to experience what I would assume to be one of the most powerful and euphoric feelings that a human being can experience tonight, and deservedly so.

At tonight’s Olympic opening ceremony, we were subjected to a lot of frill. We sat through plenty of Ryan Seacrest, we sat through some kind of weird, real-life rendition of Harry Potter, and we saw plenty of the Queen.

But, most importantly, we saw a historic moment in women’s sports. That is what the Olympic Games are truly about.

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