Safiya, The 1rst Emirati Female Cyclist Qualified For Paris Olympics 2024

Photo of Safiya, 1st emirati cyclist quqlify for olympics paris 2024.

Safiya Al Sayegh was driving from Abu Dhabi to Dubai after an awards ceremony, not anticipating any surprises. With prior experience at the World Cycling Championships, the 22-year-old was content with her development as a professional cyclist. During her journey, Safiya received an unforeseen call from the president of the UAE Cycling Federation, notifying her of her qualification as first Emirati femele for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games (July 26-August 11).

“It was an incredibly emotional moment. Both my mother and I were in tears in the car. Then my father called me, and he was overjoyed,” Safiya recalled. It was no surprise that tears of joy welled up for Safiya, who had just achieved a historic milestone as the first Emirati female cyclist to secure a spot at the Olympics. Safiya, part of the UAE Team ADQ, a professional women’s road racing team. Moreover, Safiya recently graduated with a degree in graphic design from the University of Dubai.

In an exclusive interview with the City Times, the up-and-coming star delved into how she balances her cycling career with her academic pursuits and underscored the importance of familial encouragement in fostering young Emirati female athletes. Here are some key excerpts from the interview:

You were introduced to sports at a young age and explored various disciplines before developing a passion for cycling. Was athleticism always a prominent aspect of your family dynamic?

“I hail from a family deeply rooted in sports, and I am fortunate to have my father, Mukhtar Al Sayegh, who pursued a career as a professional footballer, as a central figure. He represented the UAE in the Youth World Cup. While he supported my athletic endeavors, he also expressed concerns about my academic performance.

However, I reassured him that I could effectively balance both sports and academics. Over time, I realized that participating in sports not only enhances focus but also improves overall concentration, ultimately leading to better academic achievements. I was delighted to prove to him that I could excel in both domains.”

During a recent panel discussion, you mentioned that your youngest sister initially lacked awareness of the Olympics when you qualified for the Paris Games. However, it’s likely that more young girls in the country may now be interested in learning about the Olympics and aspiring to become Olympians in the future. You have a unique opportunity to pave the way…

“It’s a significant responsibility as people will closely observe your actions and opinions, offering both critique and support. Nonetheless, the encouragement you receive serves as a driving force to persist. Setting a precedent is truly remarkable, and I hope my journey serves as an inspiration for more girls to follow suit. Even if they do not reach elite athlete status, I hope they become more proactive in pursuing their passions and chasing their dreams in life.

As women, we often harbor self-doubt and are overly critical of ourselves. I have grappled with self-doubt for many years. I am learning to self-motivate and have confidence in my abilities, as there have been instances where others believed in me more than I believed in myself. Hence, my message to women is to pursue their passions, chase their dreams, and have faith in their abilities.”

You’ve already showcased your skills as a road cyclist. However, the forthcoming 158-km road race at the Paris Games will certainly be arduous. What are your main aims?

“My foremost objective is to complete the race. It’s anticipated to be a highly demanding event, particularly given my limited experience compared to some of the other contenders in Paris. Nevertheless, just being part of the competition is a notable achievement for me. Yet, I aim to surpass this and portray the UAE in the most outstanding light possible.”

Your mother played a significant role in shaping your career, even convincing your father to allow you to pursue a professional athletic path. We’ve also spoken with numerous other young Emirati female athletes, and they all credit their involvement in sports to their mothers’ support. This underscores the progressive mindset of mothers in our nation…

“Receiving such backing is indeed a gift. It’s inspiring to see many girls across the country receiving similar encouragement from their families. It indicates a growing trend of mothers encouraging their daughters to follow their aspirations and lead active lives. This may be contributing to the increasing number of professional female athletes in the country.

Despite the obstacles present in our society, perseverance is crucial. I strongly advocate for nurturing a passion for sports to the extent that individuals can still pursue their dreams despite setbacks and skeptics. Often, those who now offer support were once doubtful. Thus, while some families are exceptionally supportive, others may not be as encouraging. Nonetheless, having a supportive family acts as both a catalyst and a source of motivation for personal development and success.”

You’ve touched on your family, but have there been any athletes whose stories have motivated you to strive for excellence?

“During my schooling, I was deeply passionate about swimming and greatly admired Michael Phelps. I delved into his interviews, absorbing invaluable insights from his journey. He taught me that reaching the pinnacle of success is arduous, but maintaining it requires even greater perseverance. It demands unwavering dedication and continual improvement to stay ahead of the competition, as rivals are always vying to outdo you. His narrative serves as a constant reminder to stay dedicated to my sport and consistently refine my skills.”

Yousuf Mirza has also been a significant source of inspiration in my life. As the first professional Emirati cyclist, he sparked my ambition to pursue a professional career. Witnessing his qualification for the Rio Olympics in 2016, coinciding with my debut year as a cyclist for the UAE national team, fueled my Olympic aspirations. Today, I am thrilled and proud to have fulfilled that dream.”

“Furthermore, Marta Bastianelli holds a special place as my female role model. As a fellow rider on our professional team, UAE Team ADQ, she achieved remarkable success, including winning the World Championships in 2007. Despite embracing motherhood in 2014, she continued to excel, securing victories at the European and Italian Championships.

Witnessing her triumphant comeback to the sport post-motherhood was incredibly inspiring. She embodies the idea that women can effectively balance family responsibilities with athletic pursuits and still thrive. It was a privilege to be her teammate for several years, and her journey continues to fuel my aspirations.”


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