'Everything is possible': UAE's female pioneer athletes inspire young women to follow their dreams

Amna Al Qubaisi, the first female racing driver from UAE, says it feels amazing to accomplish big at a young age, but it takes courage and dedication to compete in a male-dominated sport


Ismail Sebugwaawo

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Published: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 5:31 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Mar 2023, 9:59 PM

Two Emirati women pioneers and 'firsts' in their fields, Zahra Lari, the first woman in history to compete in figure skating wearing a headscarf and Amna Al Qubaisi, the first Emirati female racing driver, have spoken about their journeys and victories they've won. The young Emiratis have also revealed their challenges in male-dominated sports.

In a panel discussion on "Female athletes who refuse to stand for the status quo" at the Forbes 30/50 Forum in Abu Dhabi, Lari said she championed female representation in sports in the Middle East and has worked relentlessly to build the women's sporting community regionally.

Lari was the first woman in history to participate in international figure skating competitions wearing a hijab. This was at the European Cup in Canazei, Italy, in 2012, and her points were deducted for "outfit violation".

The Emirati was also UAE’s first figure skater to compete in the winter qualifications in 2018, leading the UAE to become the first Arab nation to join the International Skating Union.

Zahra Lari
Zahra Lari

Lari, currently the CEO of the Emirates Skating club & President of Figure Skating Committee UAE Winter Sports Federation, says she first skated at the age of 12 after seeing the Disney film Ice Princess.

“When I saw the movie, I fell in love with skating. I told my mother that I wanted to try the sport, and she said "no", stressing that I had to focus on my studies,” she told Khaleej Times on the sidelines of the Forbes 30/50 Forum.

“But my dad welcomed the idea, and he started taking me for skating lessons after class. I started learning the spot for fun, and I had no idea I would take it as a profession."

When her passion for skating grew, she intensified her training.

“I used to wake up at 4.30am to practice and then practice for another three hours after class. I was so passionate about learning more skills, and sometimes I had to eat and change in the car as I headed for training because I didn’t have time.”

The Emirati says she had a very good coach who helped her to participate in her first international competition.

Lari said she never wanted to travel abroad for training, and they decided to open up the Emirates Skating Club, which was the official skating club in the country and they brought in high-level coaches.

“We still have fantastic coaches for the young generation,” she said.

The Emirati says when she got married and gave birth to her first daughter after the Covid-19 pandemic, she decided to retire from international competitions to focus on the young generation.

Educating people about figure skating sport and informing them that it was ok for women to take part in the sport, even in international competitions, was one of Lari’s biggest challenges.

The Emirati skater has urged the young generation to join the skating sport for fun, and then they can take it on to the next level.

Inspiring women to follow their dreams

Amna Al Qubaisi, the Emirati Formula Racing Driver and the first Emirati female racing driver says she is keen on inspiring women to follow their dreams.

Al Qubaisi is the first female Arab to win an FIA F4 race in 2019, the first female Arab to win the RMC in 2017, the GCC Drivers Programme, and The Dubai O Plate in 2019.

During a panel discussion at the Forbes 30/50 Forum in Abu Dhabi, she says that her passion came from her father who was a racing driver himself and had started in 2009.

“My father inspired me to become a Formula 1 racing driver. He would come home and invite drivers over for dinner,” said Al Qubaisi.

“They would talk about racing and their favourite tracks when I listened. I picked interest, and I started practising when I turned 14. My father supported me and taught me some skills to be a good race car driver.”

The Emirati says it feels amazing having big accomplishments at a young age, but it takes courage and dedication to compete in a male-dominated sport.

She faced the challenge of dealing with people who judged and criticized her for taking part in the car race sport because she was a woman, but she ignored them and kept on moving.

“More women should join male-dominated fields in sports and others. I urge women to follow their dreams and to embrace the fact that they should keep on persisting to achieve what they want to be because everything is possible,’ she said.

The Forbes 30/50 Forum, which kicked off in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday as part of the International Women’s Day activities, has gathered young super-achievers who innovate and the legends and icons with priceless experience.


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