Washington – Female racers are becoming more common on Palestinian race tracks as motorsports grows in popularity, Ma’an News Agency reported Monday.
As the Palestine Motorsports Federation and British Consulate General finished two days of training for women racers in Ramallah, a number of new faces got behind the wheel. Nine women took part in the weekend workshop, preparing for a race against their male counterparts in two weeks. The workshop, hosted by British racer Helen Elstrop, aimed to improve the women’s racing skills and technique.
One woman who took part in the workshop, 30-year-old Hamameh Jorban, had previously only been a fan of the sport, supporting her favorite racers from the sidelines. "Now, I will compete with all," she said. Another racer, Samia Khoury, is a mother of two from Jerusalem and said her husband, a racing trainer himself, had "encouraged me to race many times, but now, I feel able to compete with other women on the track."
The women at the workshop were trained on league regulations, professional racing, and techniques to become a high-scoring racer. Palestinian champion racer George Sa’adeh, the only male in attendance and brother of one of the woman racers, also helped Elstrop with the training. The workshop is “an excellent move” said George. He also lauded Elstrop for her efforts, saying, "Helen was wonderful, and she's been a coach and a racer for 17 years, and is married to a racer!"
Motorsports in Palestine have been a growing sport for several years, with the first league race held in Jericho in 2005, according to the Palestinian Motorsports Federation. Racers and their fans often come from across the territories to represent their home districts in the races, and in 2008 Palestinian racers traveled to Jordan and Egypt for competitions.
Though the league is few years old, women have only more recently joined the sport. Jospeh Handal is one of the federation’s founding racers and envisions the sport as an opportunity for all Palestinians, regardless of their gender. Betty Sa'adeh, George's sister, raced for this first time in August 2009, and she has not stopped since. "I encourage all the girls to join the race because it is so much fun," she said.
One of the barriers that both men and women racers alike must face is the rising cost of the sport. The Sa'adeh siblings both spoke in an interview about the burdening costs, saying competition gets steeper as the need for modifications to their racing vehicles increase. The cost for these improvements comes from their own pocket unless they find a sponsor.
To cover their costs for now, Karen McLuskie, who heads the British racing project, said the women’s team would have a separate budget for racing maintenance. McLuskie also spoke of the importance of Palestinian independence and of racing as a means to improve the image of Palestinian women.
“We encourage the establishment of a Palestinian state, and it needs to have a good image, a better understanding and view of Palestine, and especially of Palestinian women," McLuskie said. "When I came to Palestine and saw women racing, I thought it was a great project and sport to encourage that gives women a chance to express themselves and prove they are not ignored or marginalized.”