Female Swimmer to Represent Pakistan in Athens
A young schoolgirl from Pakistan is about to become the conservative Islamic Republic's first woman to plunge into the Olympic pool. Rubab Raza will be representing a country where women swimming had been forbidden for many years. Christoph Heinzle visited the teenager in Pakistan.
Three hours of training in the morning, three hours in the afternoon – and in between lessons at school – Pakistan's biggest swimming talent, Rubab Raza is preparing to go for gold in the Olympics 50 meter freestyle competition.
The thirteen-year-old is the first swimmer ever to represent Pakistan in the games – thanks to a wild card the International Olympic Committee gave to her in recognition of her achievements in international swimming competitions.
"My mother and I were crying, because we were so happy about it," says Rubab Raza. "Never in my life will I forget this moment. Taking part in the Olympics in Athens in the greatest event for every sportsperson. I can consider myself extremely lucky to be able to have come this far at such a young age."
Rubab Raza needed a lot of luck and persistence to make this dream come true, for professional swimming is anything but common in Pakistan. Until the end of the 80s women swimming was even forbidden in the Islamic Republic, international swimming competitions were banned from TV.
Times have changed a little, but Rubab's mother explains that naked arms and legs remain a taboo in Pakistan:
"The older Rubab gets, the more we are confronted with the problems," she says. "If a girl here puts on a swimming suit and goes swimming, she almost considered as an alien."
Rubab's parents have always backed their daughter's athletic career. They even pay for a private coach because the country's national swimming association only supports Rubab with 25 euros per month.
Women swimming considered a sin
The parents also defend their daughter against attacks by Muslim hardliners who consider women swimming to be a sin.
Only slowly are attitudes starting to change – like in the case of this man.
"I am proud of Rubab," he says. "Our women should take part in the Olympic Games and consider it to be an event of major importance!"
"The greatest thing in the world"
Rubab Raza has managed to fulfil her dream. She's excited about travelling to Athens and feels honoured to represent her country.
"It is a wonderful feeling. Stepping out of the plane dressed in the colours of my country – that it the greatest thing in the world for me."
For athletes like 13-year-old Rubab Raza from Lahore, Pakistan, the famous
Olympic motto is still valid: It's taking part that counts.
DEUTSCHE WELLE/DW-WORLD.DE © 2004