Working in the field of public relations and communications for most of her life, Batoul Arnaout felt that there was unequal attention to sports in Jordan, which ultimately caused some people to be left out of the field. Seven years ago, Batoul had the opportunity to use her experiences as a Jordanian athlete to improve the sporting situation in Jordan by launching an initiative to support athletes.
In the heart of Amman, Batoul was raised to be as strong as her male counterparts. When she was only five years old, her father enrolled her in a taekwondo class with her sister because he wanted his daughters to be as strong as boys and have the same opportunities. Batoul grew to explore the different types of sports where she fell in love with squash and competed with the national team for around seven years.
After a permanent tennis elbow injury, Batoul felt the urge to find another sport that does not require the exertion of pressure on her arm. She then found a new passion for cycling, a sport that she has been practicing for around thirteen years now, in addition to running which she enjoyed since she was a kid. Growing up, she noticed that her training sessions in different kinds of sports did not have many girls, making her stand out. This situation did not affect her choices since she was supported by her parents who wanted her to continue doing what she loved.
Stemming from her own experiences and visiting rural areas as part of her initiative, Batoul noticed the poor infrastructure. With no running tracks, cycling trails, or even sidewalks, parents were not encouraged to allow their children to play outdoor sports, let alone girls who were even less encouraged. She also witnessed athletes from rural areas participating in sports events lacking the proper equipment and some even running barefoot.
She established BOOST (Better Opportunities and Options for Sports Today) to provide equal support to athletes, whether boys or girls, in marginalized communities to help give better opportunities to those athletes who are achieving results in competitions but lack the financial support. During the implementation of the initiative, Batoul faced challenges but she continued going on with what she started by reaching out to hundreds of athletes across the country.
Batoul’s injuries taught her many lessons. Her current injury, what her doctor calls ‘overuse’, made her temporarily stop cycling and running. Her previous injury, which made her leave squash behind, was caused by using heavy equipment. Batoul explained that her injuries taught her that tailored training is needed for athletes in all sports. Throughout the years, she felt that her trainers were experienced and treated her no less than her male counterparts. However, these trainers did not consider Batoul’s needs as a girl and a woman. To her, trainers should be aware of the different physiologies since the physiology of a girl is different from that of a boy and their biological clocks differ as well.
Batoul acknowledged that although her trainers treated girls and boys equally, they did not consider her body’s particular needs as a girl. For this reason, Batoul decided to take courses to learn about the differences in physiologies, especially between children and women. Batoul also recognized that the sporting system in Jordan did not focus on the mental health of athletes at all, whether they were having problems at home, for instance. As such, she became more attentive to training athletes as people and not only as teams by delving more into their biology, mental health, and comfort.
As we spoke to Batoul, she suggests that governments should start investing in their youth and planning to make sports accessible to all age groups, genders, and areas. With a focus on Amman, Batoul had also seen that funds are received to improve the situation of certain sports only such as football and basketball. However, Batoul did note that the situation for sports in Jordan is becoming better for girls as schools and clubs are hosting teams for girls. A beacon of hope in Jordan, Batoul wishes it would extend to all rural areas in addition to Amman.
Batoul does not differentiate between boys and girls, as all should be treated equally and provided with the same opportunities. Her first advice to girls is to keep on learning and improving their educational status. Batoul says this advice with her father’s words in the back of her mind who wanted her to be financially independent. To prove her point, she illustrates her own achievements as she pursued continuing education and earned several certificates that enhance her marketing degree.
Batoul also advises girls to be fully conscious and aware of their rights and duties in life since most problems arise from ignorance. Seeing adults suffer from issues that started in their youth, Batoul advises girls to pick a sport that they find enjoyable and practice it as a necessity, not as a luxury. The motive behind Batoul’s advice is not only her status as an athlete but also her status as a Jordanian citizen witnessing increasing rates of smoking among youth, diabetes, and obesity in children.
As an Arab woman participating in a men-dominated industry, Batoul takes the initiative to go beyond the social construct in Jordan and make a change. She sees herself as someone creating change in society and feels proud when girls approach her telling her that they are following her steps. Batoul shows that no number of negative comments can stop a girl from pursuing her interests and dreams and that challenges will always persist.
This story was written by Tamara Sleiman