This Emirati couple is on a mission to make their daughter a champion in rhythmic gymnastics

Tariq Malallah and Malak AlFarsi want to see their daughter and other girls from the UAE take the podium in international rhythmic gymanstics championhips

By Manju Ramanan

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Tariq Malallah and Malak AlFarsi with Lamia.
Tariq Malallah and Malak AlFarsi with Lamia.

Published: Sun 18 Feb 2024, 4:41 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Feb 2024, 8:07 AM

The strenuous yet graceful sport of rhythmic gymnastics is usually dominated by East European countries, especially the former Soviet republics and Bulgaria. However, Emirati couple Tariq Malallah and Malak AlFarsi are steadfast in their dedication to promote the sport in the UAE and help the country win international accolades by taking over the ailing Dubai Youth Olympic club where they train young girls. Tariq’s sports background as a keen footballer helps in fulfilling their new mission.

“At two, my daughter Lamia was always jumping around. When she turned three, my wife Malak enrolled her in ballet school at Ibn Batuta mall where her teacher encouraged her to be a ballet dancer.”

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"But when she started regular school, Lamia got naturally drawn to a rhythmic gymnastic club there run by a Russian athlete Ksenia Dzhalaghaniya, a former Russian World Champion. It was called the Dubai Youth Olympic Club that started in 2016. Five-year-old Lamia took to the sport that had ballet as well as floor exercises. It required skill and involved props such as clubs, hoops, ribbons etc. Most of all, it needed flexibility and Lamia was the right age because once the child grows up, the flexibility of the body decreases,” says Malak.

“In Russia most kids train early and so the world of gymnastics is dominated by Russians. It is rare for Emiratis to take to the course,” she adds. But when Lamia did well, she garnered a lot of press and people started writing about this Emirati kid who excels in rhythmic gymnastics.

Malak and Tariq first became patrons of Lamia’s club but after 2020, post Covid, it started seeing losses and the couple took it over. “We are keen that this sport that is practised by women and trained by women coaches is recognised at the national level,” says Malak. Today there are 30 clubs in Dubai itself. Most of them are run by expats but theirs is the only one run by Emiratis.

Malak stresses the need for sports courses at the diploma or degree level here. “Seldom do universities or schools teach sports academically or have sports diplomas. But there is a Master of Sports that can be earned. And our effort is to make that happen once there is a federation for rhythmic gymnastics."

But how much does it take to convince people to take up the sport? “ Few people take to it since it is new. But we have Arab students too,” she adds. “Sometimes people ask me why I allow my child to wear the rhythmic gymnasts costume? I say ‘Why not? They are fully covered always,’” says Tariq. “I stand up for my kids and will always support them. I have been a sportsman myself and I would go all out to fulfil their dreams.”

However, there were hurdles on the way to their goal. The couple had to fight their family to allow their daughter to continue with the sport. “Right from the beginning I was clear that I wouldn’t let my kids laze around at home, turn into couch potatoes, and watch TV all day long. My younger daughter is fond of coding and we are encouraging her,” she says. The regimen helps because, when Malak was growing up, education, though taken seriously, wasn’t really imposed. “When I was growing up and we didn’t like school, it was okay to leave. If you didn’t study, it was acceptable. But we aren’t like that. We ensure discipline in our kids and though today Lamia has no personal time, what she does is not what all kids do,” adds Malak.

Lamia, who has won several distinctions for the UAE, was coached by Olesya Petrov, formerr member of the national team of Russia and an European champion. She caught the eye of the President of Russian rhythmic gymnastics federation Irina Viner after one of the biggest championships and was featured on Russian national television after being invited to train with the national team in Moscw.

Lamia trains four to six hours every day along with attending Choueifat School. “It is tough but the school has been supportive. Also I don’t pressure her to excel in academics because she is focused on the sport,” says the mom. “Yesterday, Lamia came to me and told me that she needs to be on a diet - no sweets or rice,” says Tariq. Rhythmic gymnasts have to be light footed and cannot put on weight.

These change-makers are paving the path to make their children's dreams come true. “I would love to see my daughter reach places I didn't reach. She met Sheikh Mohammed and shook his hand. I am yet to meet him,” says Tariq.

“This is a mission, and I want to make that change, for my daughter and for girls in the UAE,” says Malak determinately.


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