- Title: ALGERIA: Volleyball team lead revival of women's sport in Algeria
- Date: 6th April 2008
- Summary: VARIOUS TEAM MEMBERS SITTING DURING A BREAK IN THEIR EXERCISE (3 SHOTS) VARIOUS TEAM MEMBERS EXERCISING BEFORE VOLLEYBALL GAME (2 SHOTS)
- Embargoed: 21st April 2008 13:00
- Location: Algeria
- Country: Algeria
- Topics: Sports
- Reuters ID: LVA746V651EFIH51R3EOSYWO4I3N
- Story Text: The Beijing Olympics mark a modest recovery for women's sport in Algeria, where female athletes were once reviled by religious conservatives.
Runner Hassiba Boulmerka was spat at on her return to the north African country after her 1,500 metres win in Barcelona in 1992. Religious leaders condemned the young woman from Constantine for "daring to display her nudity before the whole world".
It was a moment of profound division as Algeria descended into years of strife between the army and Islamist rebels.
Now a new generation of female athletes are making a push to pursue sporting dreams. The Muslim country remains traumatised by the 1990s violence and by recent occasional high-profile bombings, but the overall political situation has stabilised.
The nation's female volleyball players show just how far things could change: All Africa Games champions, they are on their way to Beijing, the first time an Algerian women's volleyball team has competed in the world's greatest sporting event.
The Algerians won a qualifying tournament in January to snap up Africa's only berth in the women's competition in Beijing.
"We are very happy and very proud to be qualifying for the Olympic games of Beijing," says Nassima Benhamouda, one of the volleyball women.
"It's the first time in the history of Algeria that the women's Volleyball team has qualified. We will be Algeria's ambassadors at the Olympic games in Beijing. We intend to perform well and prepare for it. I hope we will make Algeria proud."
Algerian sport is in dire need of a boost. In the 1990s, sport of every kind took a back seat to politics. In some areas, widespread violence meant leaving home for any but the most essential tasks was simply too risky.
To make matters worse, those years saw big sporting advances by regional rivals Morocco and Tunisia.
Preoccupied by civil strife, gloomy Algeria watched its most glorious moments recede into history -- Boulmerka's 1992 gold medal and world title in 1991, and runner Noureddine Morceli's world records in the 3,000 metres, 1,500 metres and the mile.
Sport, particularly women's sport, remains in a fragile state but at least the atmosphere is different these days.
"To be married and to have children doesn't prevent you from practising sport at a high level. I am the proof: here I am, and my husband encourages me. It's good to practice a sport. I encourage women to do the same," said player Nassima Benhamouda, whose presence in the squad suggests the possibilities opening up for women.
She is married with a two-year-old daughter. In local tradition, married women should be at home taking care of their offspring, not leaping about on a volleyball court.
Team coach Ikhedji Mouloud hopes the team's trip to Beijing will revive the fortunes of all women athletes in Algeria.
"The team faced all kind of problems. But it has become the pride of the country, it will be the only female team to represent Algeria at the Olympic games in Beijing. I hope that it will give Algeria and the Algerian female athletes a new image, that it can compete with other sporting federations, and be successful. It makes you think," Mouloud said.
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