For the Algerian athlete Hassiba Boulmerka, becoming world champion in the 1,500 meters in 1991 brought a burden she did not count on: that of Islamic fundamentalism, which could not allow a woman to run “naked” on an athletics track. With the Barcelona Games on the horizon, the first African woman to win a world athletics title received death threats.
“In the months before the Games I did not do any race. She knew that at any moment she could be killed. For being a woman. But I decided to fight.” They gave him an escort. She trained in Spain, France and Germany. She took the gold. The first in history for Algeria. Crossing the finish line, she clenched her fist in anger. She screamed her victory. The name of her country was pointed out on the shirt. That was much more than Olympic gold. It was a victory against those who wanted to see her dead, against those who didn’t want her to run. She won the 1995 Princess of Asturias award for sports. Years after that gold, she would remember on the BBC what she thought when she crossed the finish line in Barcelona: “And now, if you kill me, it will be too late. I’ve already made history.”
Lilian Parr started out playing rugby and switched to soccer. She was tall, strong and hit the ball well. She scored goals with ease. Her popularity grew so great that her team drew 53,000 people in a match against a French team in Liverpool in 1920. “Having received complaints about football being played by women, the Council feels compelled to express strongly the opinion that football is not it is appropriate for ladies, and they should not be encouraged to practice it”, the English Football Federation then announced at the same time as it announced the prohibition of women’s teams from playing on fields attached to it. And they went on tour in the United States. Parr lived to see the federation revoke the 50-year-old ban. She died in 1978, long before she was inducted into the English Soccer Hall of Fame in 2002 and a statue of her was dedicated to her by the National Soccer Museum in Manchester. It was in 2019.
In Heroines through sport (JC), the journalist Tolo Leal presents 25 stories of women athletes who fought, who won and who lost. That they left their health or life. That they opened the way for those who would come after. So that no one would have to go through what Stamata Revithi went through, who secretly ran the marathon in the 1896 Games one day after the test was held.
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