6 November 2017

Star-studded line-up of sports industry leaders, including H.E. Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, H.E. Aref Al Awani, Olympic legend Michelle Kwan, Maria Teixidor Jafresa of FC Barcelona, and Beirut Marathon founder May El-Khalil, take to the stage for opening panel discussions


A star-studded line-up of industry leaders sporting pioneers and global icons, led by three UAE Ministers of State, graced the main stage at the International Conference of Sports for Women (ICSW) on Monday morning for the opening speeches and first two panel discussions on day one at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre (ADNEC).

The fourth edition of the two-day, world-leading conference was opened by H.E. Sheikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Cabinet Member and Minister of State for Tolerance, who welcomed the assembled delegates from around the world to the UAE capital, and explained the crucial role that sports is playing across the nation in addressing key societal challenges:

“Women’s sports reflects the commitment of women to grow mentally, physically and to create happiness and contribute positively to society,” explained His Excellency.

“No wonder, therefore, that this leading conference, which includes elite participants from across UAE and around the world, is organized under the patronage of the Mother of the Nation, Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak”

His Excellency Sheikh Nahyan was followed onto stage by the UAE Minister for Youth, H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, who was eager to emphasize the progress that has been made in the pursuit of opportunities for women in sports and all aspects of society:

“We meet in this place to spread the word of leadership of women in sport,” explained Her Excellency.

“We talk about empowering women, a topic that began dozens of years ago with the support of Her Highness Sheikha Fatima Bint Mubarak. A few years ago people believed women couldn’t achieve in various areas, but our sisters and mothers have proven that it is not the case. Women today in the UAE have no need to wait for an invitation to make an achievement or seize an opportunity - women in the UAE are seizing the opportunities for themselves.”

The opening morning of the Conference also saw the first two panel discussions of five which are scheduled to take place over the two day event. ICSW has attracted a stellar line-up of speakers, and Panel One saw a packed auditorium listen to an informative discussion around the theme ‘Empowering Women: Sports and Leadership’.

Her Excellency Noura Bint Mohammed Al Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Knowledge Development, began the panel by explaining how sport has the power to unify, and she was joined on stage by Maria Teixidor Jufresa, Board of Directors Vice-Secretary, FC Barcelona, and Michelle Kwan, two-time Olympic medalist, five-time World and nine-time U.S. figure skating champion.

“Sport is a unifier - it is why we are united here and I’m honored to be sitting alongside Maria and Michelle,” said Her Excellency.

“I would like to say that sports is a common responsibility. The Dubai Fitness 2030 initiative, for example, focusses on how to achieve the goal of making everyone practice sport every day. It is a responsibility of everyone.”

Panel One continued in the discussion of leadership in sport, with Maria Teixidor Jufresa and Michelle Kwan giving the assembled delegates an insight into their views of what goes into the creation of a leader and the importance of role models in sports.

“I had many role models growing up. At seven years old I watched the 1980 Olympic Games and was star-struck by the American Olympic skating team,” explained the American double Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan.

“In any sport you learn many life lessons of hard work, determination, perseverance. Learning how to pick yourself up after falling down in front of millions. These are lessons that serve you well in life. The moments that I fell and made mistakes were when I learnt the most about myself,” continued Kwan.

The second panel of the day was organized under the topic of ‘Behavioral Change: Sports as the Norm’ and featured a group of leading sports administrators from both the UAE and overseas. Each panelist was invited to begin the session by asking the question – ‘what is the single issue that the sports world needs to address in order to change behaviors, attitudes and increase opportunities for women in sports?’

His Excellency Aref Al Awani, General Secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council (ADSC), set the scene by explaining ADSC’s ambition to change health and wellbeing behaviors amongst people of the UAE:

“We have seen what sports can do to change behavior and how events like the Beirut Marathon and Special Olympics World Games can help implement behavioral change through sports. At the Abu Dhabi Sports Council we conducted a survey and found that we have more than 48% of households in Abu Dhabi who consider sport to be important and beneficial for health. When parents and schools are convinced of this, and we can convince all key stakeholders, then we will have a healthy society.”

Continuing the discussion along the Conference theme of ‘Inspiring Generations’, Kate Bosomworth, Board Member, Sport England and lead for the groundbreaking ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, May El-Khalil, Founder of the Beirut Marathon Association, and Tala Al-Ramahi, from Office of Strategic Affairs for the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi, joined Al Awani on stage for the Panel Two.

Explaining the crucial role that the family can play in growing youth participation in sport Kate Bosomworth said:

“Family is so important. Playing sport with children is how you change behaviors and normalize sports from an early age. The role of mothers from an early age is also so important for young girls, so show them what is possible.”

May El-Khalil, meanwhile, talked about her own personal journey in using sport to address fundamental societal challenges as she successfully did in establishing the Beirut Marathon:

“Lebanon was witnessing a war and the idea of a marathon became a stage for all Lebanese to come together and be united, to show our true colors. Now we have a culture of running because we built a program.”

Day one of ICSW continues into the afternoon with the third panel on the topic of ‘Sponsorship and Media: Increasing Value in Women’s Sports’, as well as three interactive Workshop sessions.

Demand for registrations has been high, attracting a rich variety of delegates from across the GCC and beyond. The conference, which aims to advance the global conversation on women’s sports by providing thought-leadership from some of the most experienced industry figures and sporting icons globally, continues throughout Tuesday 7th November with a Keynote Speech from Dr. Ali Bin Tamim, Managing Director of Abu Dhabi Media Company, three more panel discussions, an inspirational talk from Special Olympics icon Loretta Claiborne, and four interactive Workshops.

The full line-up of headline speakers, panelists and workshops for day two of ICSW is:

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 www.fbma.ae/icsw.