Women for sport, Olympic-style

Lin Fhoong (right) with fellow participants at the IAAF Diamond League. Photo: Low Lin Fhoong

17 May 2015

Low Lin Fhoong, a sports correspondent at Mediacorp’s TODAY, represented Singapore at the IOC Doha Media Workshop on Women and Sport for Africa, Asia and Oceania. She shares her experience in Doha with us.

Doha, 17 May 2015 – It’s not often that one finds herself in a room of mostly female sports journalists, particularly those hailing from 68 countries across Asia, Africa and Oceania.

Exotic and funky hairdos aside, the Media Workshop on Women and Sport – organised by the Qatar Olympic Committee (QOC) in cooperation with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – hosted in Doha, Qatar, brought together 113 representatives, both men and women, from the IOC, National Olympic Committees (NOCs) and media. Organised to discuss the role of media in helping advance gender equality in sport, the two-day workshop covered topics that included media coverage of women’s events, the role men play in gender quality, and the promotion of female leadership through the media.

A day before the workshop, a group of us braved the scorching 40 degree heat to visit some of Qatar’s world-class sports facilities: Qatar Anti-Doping Laboratory, Aspire Academy, Aspetar-Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine Hospital, and Qatar Olympic Academy.

My last visit to Aspire Academy was in 2006 when Doha hosted the Asian Games, and I was amazed to find the facilities still in top-notch condition. A quick tour of the academy – whose enrolment of full-time athletes is 300, with an additional 80 attending part-time – saw the group marveling at its world-class facilities, including the Aspire Dome’s full-sized indoor football pitch. Our visit also coincided with a special sports day for girls, which saw female security officers perched at the sports hall’s viewing gallery to keep passers-by from seeing the young women in their sports attire.

The next stop at Aspetar-Orthopaedic and Sports Medicine hospital gave us an insight into Qatar’s ambitions in establishing the gulf nation as a global sports hub. A first in the region, Aspetar provides medical treatment for sports-related injury in its state-of-the-art facility. The hospital also boasts Hypoxic (altitude) rooms to help prepare athletes for competition, with world and Olympic champions like Mo Farah, and Djibouti’s world indoor champion (1,500m) Souleiman Ayanleh trying out the rooms ahead of the Doha IAAF Diamond League in May.

Day 1 of the media workshop kicked off with Mrs Ahlam Al-Mana delivering her keynote address on the Qatar Women’s Sport Committee’s achievements and efforts in advancing gender quality in sport in the country, before the audience heard from speakers from the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA), IOC Women and Sport Commission, among others. A panel discussion which included American Olympic swimmer Donna DeVarona, Nancy Lee, chief operating officer for Olympic Broadcasting Services Vancouver, and Ashley Abbott, public affairs and communications director of New Zealand Olympic Committee, saw the panelists sharing anecdotes and tips from their experiences with trying to get more media coverage for female athletes in their field of work.

A visit to the IAAF Diamond League at the Qatar Sports Club in the evening gave us a chance to catch some of the world’s best athletes in action, with Mo Farah, Justin Gaitlin – who set a world leading time of 9.73sec in the 100m in Doha – and four-time Asian Games gold medallist Femi Ogunode of Qatar among the stars competing in the meet.

The second day saw more interactive discussions on topics such as promoting leadership of women through the media, media coverage of women’s events, and the question of why more women were not working in sports media. The last topic proved to be a hotly debated one, with some like Evelyn Watta, acting secretary general of the International Sports Press Association – who is also a sports journalist based in Kenya – and Malaysian sports journalist Rajes Paul sharing their experiences and funny anecdotes on working in a male-dominated environment. The workshop ended with group discussions among the attendees, and an action plan drafted to help further the cause of women in sport around the world.

After two days of hard-hitting discussions, it was finally time for some R&R as the group of 113 bundled into the buses for some shopping, sightseeing and shisha at Doha’s Souq Waqef – a popular tourist attraction of restaurants, cafes and shops selling traditional garments, spices, handicrafts and souvenirs. My group of Brunei, Hong Kong and Singapore journalists/athlete first sprinted to the money exchange before hitting the souvenir shops, followed by a local meal of curry, briyani and rose-scented pancakes at an outdoor eatery.

Many wefies, group photos, email/Facebook contact exchanges later, it was time for the workshop attendees to head home. Shukran Doha, and see you soon!