Civil unrest, bigotry no hurdle for Yemeni sprinter
LONDON – Fatima Sulaiman Dahman has had to overcome civil unrest and deep-seated male prejudices in her home country of Yemen to make the London Olympics.
The 19-year-old, holder of an Olympic scholarship and entered in the women’s 100m, cites American running star Allyson Felix as her role model.
But when the Yemeni takes to the track of the Olympic Stadium, she will likely not be donning the favoured figure-hugging, minimalist lycra outfits worn by Felix and her closest rivals.
“In Yemen, girls are not like men,” Dahman said. “Girls are only allowed to train inside the stadium. We are not allowed to train outside a stadium.
“If anyone sees you training outside, they will push you and will shout at you saying ‘stay at home’ and some other rude stuff.”
Yemen remains a strongly male-dominated, tribal society, where girls are often married off when still children and their role is seen as largely subservient to the male population.
“If I want to train outside, I have to wait until it gets dark and the lights are off, because no one can see me then,” said Dahman, who also competed in the 400m hurdles at last year’s world championships in Daegu, South Korea.
“(As women) we are not even allowed to travel to training places by ourselves. We have to be with a man. So, my coach and my (male) friends have to take me to training places.”
Yemen also made the news recently during the “Arab Spring” uprisings that swept through the Middle East with demands of democracy.
Although not uprooted, like autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Yemen was rattled in the uprising against Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had been president for the past 33 years but was forced to step down in February after months of deadly street protests.
“The civil unrest also makes things very difficult for us. I have to stay at home even on the day I should be at the stadium for training,” Dahman said.
As sporadic violence continues on Yemeni streets amid dialogue aimed at facilitating political transition, Dahman highlighted another hurdle for female athletes – funding.
“I have been training in a sport club called the United Women’s Sports club,” she said.
“It was established to encourage women to participate in running and other sports. I have been in that club for about four years, this is my fifth year.
“When I first joined the club, we were 20 girls. Now, I am the only one who is left. The rest left the club because they couldn’t get support from anyone. If it wasn’t for my parents and my coaches, I wouldn’t be here.”
Dahman spoke down her hopes of setting herself up as a role model for Yemeni women.
“If I get results and if people see what I have achieved, it will be a great thing for women in my country. But I have to get results to make that kind of impact.” – Nampa-AFP