From its origins in 1997 as a women’s sports tournament comprising teams solely from the six-member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to its gradual evolution and expansion in 2012 into a tournament encompassing world-class sportswomen from across the pan-Arab region, the 2020 Arab Women Sports Tournament (AWST) has grown in size and stature to become a true indicator of the progress of women’s sports nationally, regionally and around the Arab world.
Hosted by Sharjah Women’s Sports (SWS) and held biennially under the patronage of Sheikha Jawaher bint Mohammed Al Qasimi, wife of the ruler of Sharjah and chairperson of SWS, the phenomenal growth of this tournament over the years exemplifies its commitment to providing a platform for women athletes to thrive and realise their aspirations, and reaffirms Sharjah’s role in nurturing and advancing women’s sports in the Arab world.
By expanding and fostering the cause of women’s sports in the region and beyond, AWST has grown to become an international competition platform, enabling high-calibre Emirati sportswomen to compete with their Arab counterparts, and together present a true image of the region’s sporting spirit to the world.
Featuring just five sports in its 2012 debut, the enthusiasm and dedication of the UAE and other Arab players prompted SWS to increase the tournament’s sports to seven in the 2014 edition. One game each was added in the 2016 edition and in 2018, increasing the number of disciplines to nine.
In the 2018 edition, sportswomen from 16 Arab countries and 67 clubs competed professionally in basketball, volleyball, table tennis, archery, fencing, equestrian jumping, karate, shooting, and athletics.
The 2020 edition scheduled to be held in Sharjah from 2 to 12 February is set to be the largest yet in terms of regional participation.
By hosting the Arab Women Sports Tournament, SWS has been helping raise the profile of women’s sports in the Arab world through its commitment to the highest standards of inclusivity and participation. Recent statistics released by a report by the Performance and Development Committee operating under the AWST Supreme Organising Committee, the department responsible for the technical, operational, logistical and other executional processes of AWST, reveal that the overall satisfaction level with the tournament rose to 83.1 per cent in the 2018 edition compared to 81.1 per cent in 2014.
Public satisfaction with the organisation of the event had stood at 75.2 per cent in 2014 and increased to 83.9 per cent during the 2018 edition while satisfaction levels with infrastructure and sporting facilities that was previously 80.6 per cent in 2014 climbed to 83.2 per cent in the last edition.
Assessing the satisfaction levels as rated by the various media entities covering the event during the 2016 and 2018 editions, it was found that the 2016 edition recorded 85 per cent media satisfaction at the beginning of the tournament, rising to 88.6 per cent by the end. The 2018 edition saw satisfaction rates climb to 91.9 per cent at the conclusion of the tournament from 90 per cent at its start.
Deputy head of AWST’s Supreme Organising Committee, head of AWST’s Executive Committee and Director General of SWS Nada Askar Al Naqbi said the statistics quantify the great strides SWS has made in developing the professional landscape of female sports in the UAE and the region. This, she said, was an outcome of their dedicated partnerships with various sporting entities.
“Preparations for all future AWST editions begin as soon as the current edition comes to a close. We are resolute on continuing on our journey to take Arab women’s sports to the highest levels of professionalism and achievement, which follows from the vision of Sheikh Sultan, and the unwavering guidance and support offered by his wife, Sheikha Jawaher,” Al Naqbi said. “We want AWST to be a regional benchmark for professional competition and skills development. We want Sharjah to reinforce its status as an incubator of human talent and capability, offering the region’s sportswomen a vibrant springboard to launch into their international sporting careers.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 November, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.