Sunday 19 May 2024 - 12:00

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Carnegie Middle East Center: Lebanon witnesses new era in sports, thanks to increased visibility of women

NNA - Lebanon is witnessing a new era in sports, thanks to the increased visibility of women. Traditionally, sports have been dominated by men, but the emergence of Lebanese women as formidable athletes is challenging entrenched beliefs regarding gender roles. In the process, it is opening doors for male-female equality in the sporting world.
The rise to prominence of the Lebanese women’s national basketball team attests to this progress. Indeed, the team’s groundbreaking achievements highlight the increasing empowerment of women in sports. In 2021, Lebanon showcased their prowess by winning the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Women’s Asia Cup, Division B. They stormed past host nation Jordan with a resounding score of 80–40, securing their place in Division A for 2023. And in a recent classification game for the Asia Cup, Lebanon proved that they were deserving of their newfound place in the top division. Thanks to a last-minute basket by point guard Rebecca Akl, who scored an impressive 27 points overall, Lebanon achieved a two-point victory against heavily favored Chinese Taipei, Taiwan’s national basketball team.
None of this should come as a surprise. Women athletes in Lebanon—including the members of the national basketball team—train with the same level of commitment and intensity as their male counterparts. They push themselves to the limit and endure exhausting physical training, painstakingly honing their skills all the while. The hours they spend in the gym, on the field, or on the court are proof of their passion and pursuit of excellence.
Despite their effort and dedication, however, Lebanese sportswomen often face a battle in terms of recognition and visibility. They encounter obstacles that can restrict their opportunities and hinder their progress. From gender biases to societal expectations, women athletes navigate a complex landscape in which their achievements are sometimes underappreciated or entirely overlooked. By surmounting these hurdles and excelling in traditionally male-dominated sports, amateur and professional sportswomen help to empower Lebanese girls to pursue their athletic passions without fear or hesitation.
Yet achievements without sufficient exposure will have limited reach. This is why the media is important. Television, more than any other medium, enhances athletes’ visibility and helps to combat stereotypes, whether racial or gender-based. Perhaps it can do for sportswomen in Lebanon and the Arab world what it did for African American athletes in the United States.
We may soon find out. Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), one of Lebanon’s main television stations, has acquired exclusive broadcasting rights in the country for major international and continental championships until 2025 through an agreement with FIBA. As part of its preparations for a busy season during the second half of this year, LBCI launched a campaign in June to rally support for three of the country’s teams headed for international competitions abroad: the women’s national team at the FIBA Women’s Asia Cup in Australia; the Lebanese men’s Under-19 team at the FIBA Under-19 Basketball World Cup in Hungary; and the men’s national team at the FIBA Basketball World Cup in the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia.
Like all team sports, basketball is a collaborative effort. Nonetheless, as demonstrated by Akl through her on-court heroics, sometimes an individual stands out. And if the individual in question can also make a name for herself off the court, the spotlight will shine on her even more brightly. Such is the case with Mona Yaacoub.
Yaacoub’s journey as a player began as a point guard for the women’s basketball team fielded by Lebanese sports club Antranik. These days, she plays the same position for Homenetmen Bourj Hammoud, racking up points and assists. Yet Yaacoub has also made an impact off the court, given her work in television; she serves as a commentator and anchor at LBCI Sports, lending her expertise and enthusiasm to the world of sports journalism.
Yaacoub brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to the role. As a player herself, she understands the game and can provide unique insights during live broadcasts. Moreover, in watching Yaacoub, young girls may be inspired to pursue careers in sports journalism and broadcasting. Her presence on the screen sends a powerful message that women have a rightful place in sports media and deserve equal opportunities to contribute their voices and perspectives.
However heartening the successes of increasing numbers of Lebanese women in sports and sports journalism or broadcasting, it is crucial to recognize that myriad challenges remain. For example, in Lebanon and many other countries, there is a significant gender disparity when it comes to coaching positions, particularly in male-dominated sports. Having women coaches brings unique perspectives, experiences, and leadership styles to the realm of sports. Their presence promotes an inclusive environment that values diversity and equal opportunities.
Additionally, financing is imperative for the growth of women’s sports and the success of Lebanese teams in international competitions. The Lebanese Basketball Federation has shown support for the national women’s team, recognizing its potential and commitment. And the team has picked up a few sponsors. Yet there remains a pressing need for additional financial support and continued investment, both in terms of infrastructure and career opportunities, to sustain whatever momentum has been achieved and to ensure that future generations of sportswomen can thrive.
Ultimately, the future trajectory of women’s professional sports in Lebanon is uncertain, and any progress will depend on several factors. Some of these lie beyond the control of Lebanese sportswomen. Others, however, fall within their realm of influence. For example, should the women’s national basketball team—which is having an extraordinary run—secure a spot in the 2026 FIBA Women’s Basketball World Cup, this would be unprecedented in its history. Moreover, such an achievement would raise the profile of Lebanese women’s sports in general and might even herald the beginning of true gender equality in Lebanon.--Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center



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