Sarah Attar is a track and field athlete and was one of the first female Olympian to represent Saudi Arabia. The 22 year old is a student at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California. Attar currently majors in art.She holds dual citizenship for both the USA and KSA. She broke a barrier competing in the 2012 Olympics. Saudi Arabia has not sent women to the Olympics and for a long time refused to do so. Strict Islamic law and sexist attitudes have held women back. This is beginning to change. The IOC threatened Saudi Arabia with disciplinary action if it did not send women athletes. The Kingdom made the right decision and complied. Sarah had not lived in Saudi Arabia, but America most of her life. She was born in 1992 in Escondido, California. Even though she had never lived in the Saudi Kingdom, she wanted to represent the country.
Arab and Muslim nations are often stereotyped as misogynist and backward. The racist stereotype of the Arab woman is one of weakness, helplessness, and victim. Sarah challenged that by participating in the games. She demonstrated that change can come from these societies and women’s status can advance. This is pivotal and it can provide a method of combating Islamophobia and anti-Arab racism. Attar’s athletic career began in high school, with cross country.
Sarah Attar has said that sports were a positive influence on her life. It gave her confidence to try different things. While she may not have the number of medals as some Olympians, what she did was critical. Attar competed in the 800 meters in the 2012 Olympics. Her personal best was 2:40 time. She did not advance further, but considering she had not competed like she did in high school that is impressive. Reactions to her running in Saudi Arabia were mixed. Attar claimed “it was televised, but some stations didn’t show it, which speaks to how it was controversial.” there seems to be division over women’s roles in Saudi society. Attar explains “Some people weren’t happy that I was running in the Olympics and representing Saudi Arabia, but overall it was received pretty well and over time became more accepted.”
Getting to the Olympics would not have been possible without sponsorship. Oiselle a company known for running apparel, made a generous contribution to her expenses. The company has sponsored many female athletes. Attar was able to get sponsorship and was part of the opening Ceremonies Parade of Nations. When Sarah was asked if her performance made a difference she exclaimed: “visiting Saudi Arabia recently and talking to girls there, they tell me how much I inspire them.” There is an obvious paradigm shift that is happening. Sarah states further “So, even if it’s still just steps toward getting more women’s gyms or running events or anything like that to evolve—that there are now girls who dream of competing in the Olympics is pretty amazing.”Saudi women and girls now have a champion and a model of inspiration in athletics. The major question now is will Attar appear in the 2016 games? She has said “it is up in the air.” It seems uncertain at this point, but she still wants to run and represent Saudi Arabia.