Athletics: Qatar finally allow women to compete in Qatar

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The Independent Online
THE Finnish javelin thrower, Mikaela Ingberg, launched a new era on Thursday when she became the first woman to compete in a professional sports event in the Gulf.

The 1995 world bronze medallist won her event at an international meeting in Doha, Qatar in which women were allowed to compete for the first time. "We weren't sure what to expect," Ingberg said. "When we came in to the stadium, we heard lots of whistles. We eventually realised that they were wolf whistles and that the Qatari people were glad to see us."

Nawal el Moutawakel-Bennis, of Morocco, the first Moslem woman to win an Olympic title, said the women competitors had received a warm welcome. "I am so relieved that it's all over," she said. "We were all very nervous about what sort of welcome the women would get here but it was very encouraging. It could have been very bad but on the whole everyone was understanding and very responsive."

The International Amateur Athletic Federation had told Qatari officials that their meeting would be granted Grand Prix status only if they allowed women to compete. In return Qatar introduced a dress code, ruling out skimpy clothing but allowing the women athletes to take part dressed in T-shirts, singlets, cycling shorts and tracksuit trousers.

A special family section was set aside for Qatari women but only a handful attended. Thousands of expatriate women were present, though, in the crowd of 20,000. "I think it's a great tournament and it's so good to see women taking part," said Olga Bravits, a Russian woman living in Qatar. "This will really make people sit up and take notice of Qatar and they will see that a Moslem nation can be progressive without losing sight of its culture and traditions."

On the track, the Olympic champion, Donovan Bailey, won the 100 metres while the Olympic 1500 metres champion, Noureddine Morceli, was beaten by Kenya's John Kibowen, the world cross country champion over four kilometres.