Olympic Hopeful Ibtihaj Muhammed is poised to become a global story and potentially the most famous fencer in USA history if she can qualify for the London 2012 Games.
She would be the first practicing female Muslim on the US Olympic team to compete in a Hijab and the power of this story is MASSIVE on so many levels.
#1 HEALING: At a time when there is a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding of Muslims in the USA, she’d be position as an Olympian to help change millions of people’s opinions in our country. A US Olympic hero who is a practicing Muslim. What could be more powerful/timely than that?
#2 ROLE MODEL: In the Middle Eastern world,(where I can’t claim to be an expert) but I know there are big issues around women’s rights and here she would be a powerful female Muslim role model to millions of women.
#3 EXPERT: The 2012 Olympics will be taking place during Ramadan. So, there will be a lot of press about muslim athletes competing while having to practice their faith. This also lends another opportunity to educate people and she has been great in recent interviews explaining her training, her faith and challenges.
Even months out of the Olympics now, Ibti has been profiled by the Wall Street Journal in an article Title “Fencer With Headscarf Is a Cut Above the Rest”, ESPN Magazine and now a profile in Essence Magazine.(Below) In addition, she’s just been asked to speak at the ESPN 2011 Summit.
On a purely marketing/PR/sponsorship front, this is a golden opportunity for Ibti to propel herself as a brand, and spokesperson. She would be hero to many people by being such a ground-breaker. There will be no shortage of opportunities there.
The key for her, will likely be managing the opportunities and press (not if she’ll get it. She will) and all the added pressure that comes along with the attention. It is very easy under the microscope to make even a tiny error when speaking and few fencer’s have ever had that kind of attention. There will also be the added pressure to perform with the added expectations. I hope she has someone that can help guide her through what will be a very exciting, challenging and potentially life changing year for her.
Right now, 2x-Olympic Champion Mariel Zagunis leads the qualifying and is a virtual lock and Daria Schneider is in 2nd place, with a small but decent sized lead over Ibti and Dagmara. World Championships will be a hugely important tournament for all four of them in determining who will go.
US Fencing has an amazing opportunity here, with Mariel going for a 3rd gold medal, having pulled in Nike and TD Ameritrade as sponsors and if Ibti qualifies as well, to get fencing exposure like never before. And, there are also other great stories to highlight as well with other members of the team.
Now, how is this for a possibility: She has the type of story that with the right politic and representation at the Olympics from our sport’s representatives, she could be the flag bearer for the entire US Olympic team! Imagine the impact of having a Muslim American women leading in team USA into the Open Ceremonies? Amazing!
It is only too bad women’s saber team doesn’t have an event this Olympics, because then Mariel, Daria, Daga and Ibti would all be going for sure at this point.
Regardless, stay tuned for this amazing developing story…
I apologize for any typos or lack of clarity, I’ve been meaning to write this for awhile and chose 1am while I’m in Germany at a training camp to do it!
Go Mariel, Ibti, Daria, Daga and all of Team USA!
You can follow her on FB here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Ibtihaj-Muhammad/165214850191487