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  • OpEd: Nawal Breaks Glass Ceiling


    ATR Editor Ed Hula.
    She cleared hurdles to make history at the 1984 Olympics. Now Nawal El Moutawakel of Morocco is breaking glass ceilings as an IOC member.

    Winner of the 400m hurdles in Los Angeles, she is the first female gold medalist from an Islamic nation and the first gold medalist -- male or female -- for Morocco.

    Since then, El Moutawakel has become an important figure in her country, serving as minister of Youth and Sport.

    Now in her 11th year as an IOC member (and known as Nawal among her colleagues), this week she has become the first woman named to chair the influential coordination commission for an upcoming Olympics, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

    El Moutawakel is logical choice, perhaps. She led the IOC Evaluation Commission that studied the four 2016 bids, making her among the most knowledgeable IOC members when it comes to Rio.

    But that posting came as an encore for her chairmanship of the 2012 Evaluation Commission - which was the first headed by a woman.

    Opportunities for women to take command in the IOC are scant, though their numbers are growing. There are now 15 women among the 112 current IOC members, a record number. But El Moutawakel and Anita DeFrantz (Women and Sport) remain the only women to lead any of the two dozen IOC commissions.

    El Moutawakel, like DeFrantz 10 years ago, is now the only woman serving on the ruling IOC Executive Board. Her term expires in 2012.

    While Rio de Janeiro will no doubt represent a high point of her career as an IOC member, there is another glass ceiling she can smash in four years: presidency of the IOC.

    Intentionally or not, IOC President Jacques Rogge may have signaled a favorite to succeed him when he steps down in 2013. After all, it was Jacques Rogge's tenure as Coordination Commission chairman for the Sydney and Athens Olympics that put him on the path to take over from Juan Antonio Samaranch in 2001.

    Professionally pre-occupied with developing sport among youth in Morocco, El Moutawakel also would seem to be a good fit with the IOC's growing task of reconnecting the youth of the world with the Olympics. She might present a new direction for the IOC that can't be found in the traditional stomping grounds of Olympic leaders: Europe.

    No IOC member has yet to publicly declare his or her intent to seek the IOC presidency, but the field of qualified candidates may number only a half dozen. Those who could draw the votes of their colleagues are even fewer.

    And at age 52 in 2013, El Moutawakel also has time in her IOC tenure (she can retire at 80) to sit this one out and let the lions of Europe have one last roar before she breaks a new glass ceiling.

    Written by Ed Hula

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