Now, I know all about keeping religion away from sport and that sports stars should be appreciated for what they do on the court and not on the basis of what faith they belong to. But in Safina’s case I don’t mind sticking my head out and ask some tough questions.
The lack of adulation for Safina is strange and incomprehensible for the simple reason that the Muslim world is so desperately short of women role models.
When Moroccan male tennis players such as Younes el-Aynaoui – a winner in Doha – and Hicham Arazi were regulars at the Qatar Open, fans packed the stands to cheer their every shot. But when Safina plays there’s hardly a ripple of excitement. It’s a question that demands serious answers. Is this because Safina is a woman, one is tempted to ask.
Safina and her brother Marat Safin are the only brother-sister pair to have risen to the top of the rankings and in all these years as a journalist I have not come across any article highlighting this fact. Even some of my Muslim colleagues in the Arabic media seem unaware.
Safina is of Tatar descent whose parents run a tennis club in Moscow. But Safina’s situation has only worked out to her advantage, especially if compared with that of India’s Sania Mirza’s.
Mirza has been a victim of excessive fan adulation and media interest ever since she started playing the game. Her short skirts and tight t-shirts made as much news as her tennis and obscure clerics used the situation to gain cheap publicity. If my memory serves me right, one even issued a fatwa against her.Mirza though has dealt with the situation remarkably well, her sharp wit and intelligence sparkling through at press conferences whenever she is asked questions related to her faith.
Perhaps Safina is not media savvy, perhaps it’s because she has described herself as a non-practicing Muslim. But even then, she deserves better.