7 November 2017

Sister Madonna Buder - the 86 year-old ‘Iron Nun’, Raha Moharrak - the youngest Arab to summit Everest, and 10-time Special Olympics medalist Loretta Claiborne are among the sporting icons to enthrall delegates following an opening keynote address by H.E. Dr Ali Bin Tamim

 An extraordinary line-up of sporting pioneers, and a captivating selection of stories of human achievement, lit-up day two of the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW) 2017. Throughout the opening keynote speech, two panel sessions and an unforgettable talk from a Special Olympics icon, the assembled delegates were treated to a feast of insight and inspiration from some of the most accomplished sportswomen and administrators from around the world.

Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Media Company, opened the second day at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center (ADNEC) by setting the scene for the critical role that sports continues to play in the evolution of culture and society in the UAE:

“Sport eliminates differences and borders between people, and eliminates differences between genders, and this is why women are encouraged to participate,” said Dr Bin Tamim.

“We know there are challenges for women in the Arab world, but in the UAE we are overcoming these obstacles, and we have done so by making sport a main element of culture and a way of driving achievement and increasing participation.

“The UAE is one of the first Gulf States that gave a positive image of the sportswoman and it has changed stereotypes of women in sports. We need to build sports capacity, especially by increasing the number of activities for women and developing the huge potential of women in the UAE.”

Following the keynote address, a trio of inspirational sportswomen, whose personal achievements had the audience in awe, took to the stage for a captivating first panel session of the day. Zahra Lari, a three-time UAE national figure skating champion and the first Emirati figure skater to compete on the international stage, was joined by Raha Moharrak, the youngest Arab and first Saudi to successfully climb Mount Everest, and Samar Nassar, Jordanian Olympic swimmer and CEO of the Local Organizing Committee of the FIFA U-17 Women’s World cup 2016. The panel entitled ‘The Making of a 21st Century Role Model: The Rise of Sports Women in the Arab World’ gave the esteemed panelists that chance to talk about their own journeys to sporting success and the people who inspired them along the way.

“I’ve always been very lucky - I grew up with amazing parents but it wasn’t one person, one big name who inspired me,” explained Raha Moharrak.

“The simple every day person who lives an extraordinary life is what inspires me the most. The people who have a passion to go beyond the realms of what is possible are those that inspire me the most. If I had to choose one, it would be my parents. They could see my eccentricity and they were afraid and nervous, but they loved me anyway and they gave me an abundance of acceptance and love.”

In the same vein, Olympic swimmer turned sports administrator, Samar Nassar said:

“Each one of us needs someone to inspire us. I had many athletes who were role models, but the ultimate role model for me was Muhammad Ali. He was not just a great boxer but a global humanitarian and philanthropist. I badly needed inspiration at the time and I found an Adidas shopping bag that had the words ‘impossible is not a fact, it’s an opinion’ printed on it, and this had a big impact on me. I found it an excellent way to change something negative into something positive. So I believed in that and started to not accept defeat.”

The second panel of the day – ‘Sport Across Generations: Opportunities and Challenges’ – proved to be no less inspiring as another stellar line-up of speakers shared their stories and advice in a discussion of how sport has, from grassroots to the elite level, changed in terms of its accessibility, the way it is structured, and the way it has been promoted over the generations. 86 year-old Sister Madonna Buder, known as ‘the Iron Nun’ and the oldest record holder in ironman triathlons, was joined by International Master and Woman Grandmaster chess player Tania Sachdev, 14-time muay thai and kickboxing world champion, Julie Kitchen, and Amal Murad, the first Emirati parkour instructor.

The high-achieving sporting quartet talked passionately about their shared belief in the need to persevere:

“My grandfather taught me that quitters never win, and winners never quit,” explained Sister Madonna. “I want to say to people - never lose your inner child, don’t grow up”, she advised the younger generations in the audience.

Muay thai World Champion Julie Kitchen, who only took up her sport at the age of 21, explained how it is never too late to start in sports:

“I was a very shy, timid, quiet girl, but I wanted to prove everyone wrong.”

Arguably the most heartfelt speech of the morning came courtesy of Special Olympics icon and 10-time medalist, Loretta Claiborne, who received a standing ovation following her extraordinary address.

Claiborne, who was born partially blind and unable to walk or speak until the age of four, was introduced to Special Olympics in 1971, which she described as a “turning point” in her life. She won her first gold medal in the 1983 World Games, has since won dozens of medals at various events, and is a seasoned athlete in karate, skiing, skating, and basketball. She holds the women’s record for the 5,000m run in the Special Olympics World Games for her age category and has featured in the top 100 women at the Boston Marathon twice.

Now a global spokesperson and a member of the Board of Directors for the Special Olympics, Claiborne made an impassioned case for inclusivity and for the need to breakdown stereotypes, one of the overriding missions of the Special Olympics World Games that will be hosted in Abu Dhabi in 2019:

“My main mission for 2019 is for Abu Dhabi to spread inclusion for people of determination beyond sports and into society as a whole. When the Special Olympics World Games come to Abu Dhabi in 2019, the best thing about it will be that it will breakdown stereotypes,” explained Claiborne.

“A wise one is the one who goes out not just to sit down and look, but to take action and get out of their box.”

That spirit of ambition to make a difference and breakdown barriers is set to continue into day two of ICSW, which continues into the afternoon with a packed schedule of interactive workshops, the Mubadala Healthcare Panel – Making your health a priority, and the presentation of shortlisted papers by selected students and academics.

Day 2: 7 November 2017

Panel 4 - The Making of a 21st Century Role Model: The Rise of Sports Women in the Arab World

  • Zahra Lari, first Emirati figure skater to compete internationally

  • Samar Nassar, CEO of the Local Organizing Committee, FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup 2016

  • Raha Moharrak, youngest Arab and first Saudi woman to climb Everest

Panel 5 - Sport Across Generations: Opportunities and Challenges

  • Sister Madonna Buder, ‘the Iron Nun’, oldest record holder in Ironman triathlons

  • Tania Sachdev, International Master and Woman Grandmaster chess player

  • Julie Kitchen, 14-time Muay Thai and kickboxing World Champion

  • Amal Murad, first Emirati parkour instructor


Workshop 4 - 50 Years: The Evolution of the Special Olympics

  • Loretta Claiborne, 10-time Special Olympics medalist in seven separate disciplines

  • Michelle Kwan, double Olympic medalist, five-time World and nine-time U.S. figure skating champion

Workshop 5 - Sports Photography by Getty

  • Maddie Meyer, Photographer, Getty Images

Workshop 6 - Modern Physical Education: From Teacher to Role-model

  • Alan Pascoe MBE, former President of CSM Sport and Entertainment and former Olympic athlete

  • Apollo Perelini, former Samoan international rugby union and rugby league professional, former Director of Sports for Repton School Dubai and current UAERF High Performance Manager

Workshop 7 – Inspiring Behavioral Change: A Dual Perspective

  • Kate Bosomworth, Board Member, Sport England and board lead of ‘This Girl Can’ campaign

  • Tricia Thompson, former Director of Sky Cycling, Sky TV  

Department of Health Academic Session: Presentation of Shortlisted Papers


ICSW 2017 takes place from 6-7 November at ADNEC. Registrations are free of charge and still open at