The Maldives Olympic Committee (MOC) has decided to step up women’s participation in international sports by introducing guidelines to encourage sports associations to support female athletes and officials.
The MOC has informed all national sports associations that, while funds will be released based on their performance and training, the committee will now give priority to women.
The committee will set a target of 33 percent of games contingents to be women, alongside a requirement that half of sports officials be female.
“We have noticed that when when women officials participate in international games, they are very involved in it afterwards. But there are very few officials currently, we want to encourage them,” said Secretary General of the committee Ahmed Marzooq.
At least one official for women’s individual sports and either the Chef De Mission or the Deputy Chef De Mission must also be a woman.
“Very few women’s sports have the opportunity to represent Maldives at international level. We want to give them equal opportunities,” said Marzook.
For the upcoming Asia Games – to be held in Incheon, South Korea from September 19 til October 4, 2014 – the committee will spend MVR1.89million on teams, based on this new policy.
With nearly two hundred members, the Asia Games contingent will be the biggest that has ever represented the Maldives at an international sports event.
The Commonwealth Games 2014 – to be held in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3 – will also be funded under these policies. While there, the Maldives committee is also planning for its athletes to join the Glasgow Muslim community in marking a women’s sports.
“In awarding a training scholarship we ensure there are at least two women for each sport, we want equal opportunities in the area as well,” Marzook added.
“We want people to know that even after retiring as an athlete, there are opportunities for women in coaching, as managers, referees, doctors.”
International women’s sports in Maldives
As a traditionally moderate Muslim nation, women’s participation in sports haven’t been restricted by law, or widely discouraged in the Maldives.
The 2012 Olympics marked the first time that countries like Brunei, Qatar and, Saudi Arabia sent female athletes, while other Muslim majority countries have tended to keep women’s participation to a minimal level.
Starting with just 2.2 percent in 1900, nearly 45 percent of athletes at the 2012 Olympic games were women. Since then, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also set goals such as a 20 percent female representation criteria for the executive boards of National Olympic Committees.
By 1992 there was a demand for the IOC to take more strict action against countries that banned female athletes from their teams after 34 of 169 competing countries had no female participants.
Barcelona was the Maldives’ second Olympic Games, marking the beginning of Maldivian women’s participation in the games. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Maldives’ flag bearer was a teenage girl, Aminath Rouya Hussain.
According to the MOC, between 2010 and 2012 the Maldives participated in eleven international games, with a 42 percent female participation rate.
The current Minister of Youth & Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the government considers providing equal opportunities for women in sports to be a priority.
“We will focus on women’s sports in establishing a number of sports arenas around the country. We will include Bashi (a local sport played mainly by women) courts in these places and we will include aerobics centers too. Jogging tracks will also be created for women,” he said.
Opportunities for women athletes
In 2010 a women’s basketball team represented the Maldives for the first time internationally, the very next year bringing home a silver medal from the 3-on-3 basketball event at the South Asian Beach Games.
Shizna Rasheed – a member of that historic team – feels that there is a great future for women’s basketball in Maldives.
“It was a great achievement for Maldives, especially considering we didn’t get to practice much.”
Still in her twenties, Shizna started playing basket ball thirteen years ago is now volunteering as a member of the recently established women’s committee within the MOC. She was also the women’s basketball team’s assistant coach at the 2010 Asia Games.
Shizna said that, with the right opportunities, there is a future for women’s basketball in the Maldives and that there are also plans to introduce women’s handball at a national level.
“With increasing funds more opportunities are opening now. There should be equal opportunities for women, and I think these new measures [introduced by the committee] are very encouraging. It will provide more opportunities for women athletes,” she said.
Aishath Nazima, a volleyball player with twenty years of experience, expressed similar sentiments about the measures:
“As it is, only a few women’s sports have that opportunity [to participate in international sports], it is worse for team sports. So most teams don’t practice through out the year. But this can change things. If there are games to look forward to, associations and players too will get more serious. A lot of players even quit due to lack of opportunities.”