Anita DeFrantz calls on Arab women to follow her lead at Dubai International Sports Creativity Symposium
Dubai, UAE, November 2, 2017: Anita DeFrantz, Vice President of the International Olympic Council, has saluted the UAE Government and Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein for their contribution towards empowerment of women in sports, not just inside the country but across the region.
“I've had the pleasure of knowing Princess Haya and I have a lot of respect for what she has done,” said DeFrantz in the opening session of the 13th Dubai International Sports Creativity Symposium on Wednesday at the Palazzo Versace hotel.
HE Mattar Al Tayer, Vice Chairman of Dubai Sports Council (DSC) and Chairman of Board of Trustees of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards, HE Saeed Hareb, General Secretary of DSC, Moaza Al Marri, Chairwoman of DSC's Women's Sports Committee, and Naser Al Rahma, Assistant General Secretary of DSC, were present at the Symposium along with a host of other dignitaries.
Majdouline Cherni, the Tunisian Minister of Youth and Sports, and Dr Manahel Thabet, President of the World IQ Foundation, were the other two speakers at the Symposium, which is one of the initiatives of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Awards.
“As president of the International Equestrian Federation, Princess Haya helped organise the sport to a higher level,” added DeFrantz. “She has made great contributions to her sport and she has so much more to offer to the world of sport.”
Sport has been a dominant part of Princess Haya's life and she started competing internationally in show jumping from the age of 13, winning multiple championships and representing Jordan at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.
After creating a number of firsts as an Arab sportswoman, Princess Haya took over the reins of the International Equestrian Federation and as President, from 2006 to 2014, she helped improve the Federation's financial position and launched FEITV to take the sport to a wider audience. A United Nations Messenger of Peace, she has also served as a member of the IOC.
DeFrantz, an African-American who won a bronze medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a member of the United States rowing team, challenged more Arab women to overcome their fears and follow their sporting dreams, using Princess Haya as their beacon.
“The greatest challenge before women today is, and will always be, fear,” said DeFrantz, the first female to become Vice President of the IOC executive committee, as she spoke about “Empowering Women in Sports” in the opening session of the Symposium. “Fear is a part of life. The things we fear most cause us to be least able to be successful.
“Asking for help is the best way to get over fear. In the area of sport we ask for help from coaches, from other competitors and you ask for help from history to see how other women have done this in the past.”
One of the leading voices for gender-equality in the Olympic movement, DeFrantz saluted the efforts of the UAE government in this sphere and extolled the virtues of sport in a prosperous society.
“I am delighted with what the UAE government is doing here,” she said. “Sport, I believe, is a basic right of every human being, just as basic as finding shelter and nourishment. We can judge how advanced a country is based on the access to sports of its population.
“The benefits of sports for humans are multi-faceted. In team sports we challenge ourselves, and along the way we pick up leadership skills, mutual respect and fair play.”
Talking about her own battle for gender equality at the Olympic Games, DeFrantz revealed how asking the right questions at the IOC meetings had brought success.
“At the 1996 Atlanta Games, as many as 26 NOCs didn't have women at Games. But between the 1996 to 2016 Games we had more than 32,000 women who had taken part,” said DeFrantz, who is credited with getting women's softball and football on the Olympics programme, as well as the vast increase in the number of opportunities for women's competition.
At the 1900 Olympics, only three of the 86 events (3.6 per cent) were for women. By the 1960 Olympics, that figure had increased to 29 of 150 events (19.33), but last year at the Rio Olympics, 44.4 per cent of the events (136 of 306) were for ladies and by the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, DeFrantz is hoping to achieve a 50-50 ratio.
“Things did not change overnight,” she said. “We were able to do it over time and by 2024, we hope to be 50-50 at the Olympic Games.
“I hope we can break down barriers and convince people that there is everything right in having access for women in sport.”