When Nike launched its next-level Middle East campaign, the global brand put the region’s pioneering female athletes firmly in the spotlight. Emirati figure skater Zahra Lari was featured along with the likes of parkour trainer Amal Mourad, boxer Arifa Bseiso, and fencer Inès Boubakri in a short film titled “What will they say about you?” Narrated by Saudi artist Fatima Al-Banawi, the video was a powerhouse display of talent and also served as a refreshing way to challenge people’s perceptions of young Arab women.
Young female Arab athletes have been making the news recently, with Raha Moharrak – the first Arab woman to conquer Everest – named as the first Saudi woman to be brand ambassador for TAG Heuer, the luxury Swiss watch brand.
Speaking to Vogue Arabia, Moharrak said: “My hope is, if I have daughters one day, that they are born into a time where there are no firsts. There are no records, because we’ve done them all. There’s no such thing as the first Arab, first Muslim, first woman, to do this or that.”
With big brands backing the Middle East’s established and emerging heroines, inclusivity and a greater diversity of cross-cultural exchange looks tangible.
Nike’s female Arab sports stars are endorsed under the slogan “if you have a body, you are an athlete.” Coupled with TAG’s tough motto of “don’t crack under pressure,” and the message is loud and clear. These women are not shy, retiring types. They are empowered and are just getting started. Stereotypes are being challenged. Lari, who is the only Emirati figure skater, reflects: “People may think or tell you that you can’t do certain things, but I’m going to show them you absolutely can.”
Lari’s bid for a place at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, marks the start of her latest and greatest challenge. If successful, she will become the first UAE athlete to take part in the winter games. “I am so close now to my goal. When it gets tough, I think of the word ‘olympics’ and what that means for my family and nation. That clears my vision and helps me focus on the goal,” Lari said. Naturally, she will be competing in the new Nike Pro Hijab, set to be launched across the region in Spring 2018 but available online from December 2017.
“I am covered, I am Muslim, I am from a desert country, and I’m doing a winter sport.”
As we await the results of Lari’s Olympic qualification bid, we recall her first Nike campaign video. In the final scene, we see a young Lari taking her first steps on to the ice. As she touches the frozen surface with her blades, her future is laid out before her. “I’ve had a lot of criticism throughout my journey, but I’ve never let that stop me or bring me down,” Lari tells Vogue Arabia. “People should know that Emirati athletes are strong.”