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Going For Gold: Female Sporting Heroes

With the hype building for the Olympics in Rio this Summer we take a look at the women in sport breaking down barriers to compete at the highest level in their fields.


Globally female athletes are making great strides in breaking down the patriarchal barriers that have prevented many women from competing in the past, whether because of discrimination based on gender, race, religion or disability. These athletes are proof that perseverance and dedication can lead to success despite the objections of society or pressure to conform to traditional ideas of what a sportsperson looks like.

History was made at the London Olympics in 2012 when Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Brunei all entered female athletes for the first time. Famously the IOC amended its rules on dress code so that the women were able to compete in dress that respected their religious and cultural values.

This growing diversity at the Olympics has continued and Rio promises to be filled with more inspiring women in sport. From the US Ibtihaj Muhammad will make history as the first Muslim American to compete in a hijab in the Women’s Sabre Cup tournament, while Zahra Lari from UAE will become the first athlete from her nation to compete in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in 2018.

‘Sports need to be open to all. Including Muslim women.’ – Ruqsana Begum, British Muy Thai Champion

From the UK Natalie Blake will be competing as part of the 2016 Paralympic Powerlifting team going for gold in a category traditionally dominated by men. In recent years a stronger focus on the Paralympics has shone a spotlight on competitors of all abilities while broadening our definition of what an athlete looks like.

In developments closer to home Londoner Ruqsana Begum has become the first British Muslim Thai-boxing champion and has established her own all-women classes empowering women around her to get fit and learn a new sport. Furthering her cause in encouraging women of all backgrounds to get fit Ruqsana has designed SportsHijab – a breathable Hijab. Ruqsana has also been featured in a video shot as part of Selfridge’s Everybody Campaign ‘Selfridges Hot Air Presents: Incredible Machines’ that explores the relationships women have with their bodies in a culture of overtly sexualised underwear adverts.

Equality and diversity in the Olympics and in the wider sporting world matters because it represents a levelling of the playing field in more ways than one. The more column inches female athlete’s achievements accrue the more revenue the sports gain leading to better pay for female athletes and a reduction in the current gender pay gap that exists in sport. It also matters because girls need role models of all colours, abilities and backgrounds to look up to.

Women in Sport

Image Credit: @ruqsanabegum_mt

Women in Sport

Women in Sport
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Govinder Rayt

Govinder Rayt

Writer and expert