Until recently, Saudi women haven’t always been recognized for their sporting abilities or their contribution to sporting events in the Middle East. But now, with all the new positive changes taking place in the kingdom, more and more women who excel in particular sports are coming to light.
One of those sportswomen is Amira Al Agha, a 20-year-old martial arts pro. Al Agha, having only taken up Taekwondo when she was 15, has already attained a black belt in the sport and continues to push social norms and boundaries as a sportswoman in Saudi Arabia. With her eye on an opportunity at the Olympics, Amira Al Agha spoke to AboutHer.com about how nothing stands in the way of her success.
How did you get into practicing Taekwondo as a sport?
I was a volunteer at sport center where I met Coach Reem Abubaker and had heard that she wanted to establish the first women's Taekwondo team in Jeddah and I want to be a part of it.
I actually tried so many sports including basketball, gymnastics and karate but found myself enjoying Taekwondo as it continued to become a big part of my life.
Being a young Arab female growing up in Saudi Arabia in a very conservative society, were your parents supportive of your interest in taking up the sport?
At first my parents did not support me but at the same time they didn’t stop me from pursuing the sport and when I began to train seriously for participation in tournaments and contests, they became more supportive.
You went to Jordan to represent Saudi Arabia in a competition and came away with a gold medal. How did you and your family feel in that moment?
That moment was one of the most beautiful moments of my life as all the hard training came with a big result. My family was so proud of me and that was the most amazing part.
Are you feeling hopeful to win an opportunity to compete in the Olympics and how do you feel about being a representative of Saudi Arabia?
Sure it would be amazing if I could compete in the Olympics and I train so hard with the hope that I can reach this level, and of course I am so honored to be one of the people who represent the KSA.
As an Arab woman practicing martial arts, what do you feel are the challenges that you face and how do you overcome them? Especially within Saudi Arabian society where people are not always in support of women in sport?
I remember when I first started practicing Taekwondo, I read a comment on a picture of me that said “a girl with hijab doesn’t do this!!!” Some people think our religion and our traditions, especially with Arab women, do not qualify us to do everything we want and that is so wrong. In these situations and to people with this mindset, I don’t say anything – I just show them how much I love this sport and that I can do everything with my hijab and my religion.
Do you feel practicing martial arts has shaped you as a person in any way?
Yes, absolutely. Taekwondo made me a more confident person and makes me feel that now I can go out without being afraid of finding myself in a difficult situation without the ability to respond to it.
Sports is a heavily male dominated industry, how do you assert yourself and make yourself heard?
In my opinion, men and women are equal, we are strong in a different ways and with hard work and dedication I’m confident that I am strong in what I do.
Who are the women that have inspired you and why?
So many woman inspire me in many ways, but Amal Murad, the Emirati parkour coach is the woman that has motivated me the most and made me believe in and love what I do and to never ever stop.
How do you use your position as a young Arab professional sportswoman to empower other women?
I use every opportunity to talk about my passion and do small classes to make girls see and know what Taekewondo is and like to give them the opportunity to try it out.
What would you like to say to encourage more Arab women to try Taekwondo as a sport?
Taekwondo is not just for men, nor is it related to a certain age to be able to start, and there is really nothing better than feeling that you are strong and that you can protect yourself.
Where do you see yourself in the near future?
For now, I work and train hard to participate in more international and Olympic tournaments and I think in the future I’d love to open my own Taekwondo training center for women, children as well as people with special needs.
Lastly, what advice would you give to women who are inspired by your sporting success and wish to take a similar path?
Always do what you believe in, keep dreaming big and keep training like a champion to be one.