The squash racket has been her best friend since the tender age of six years old! Following her brothers’ footsteps is what led her to become the great squash player she is today. Raneem is the first Egyptian woman to be No. 1 at any sport, something she takes great pride in – as she should. We Speak to Raneem El Welily to see what it’s like to be an Egyptian Female Squash player who has done so much and still has so much ahead.
When you’ve finally made it to Number 1, what was it like? And does it make you feel like you’re done accomplishing your goals, or does it motivate you to do more?
It is a mixture of both; you feel some kind of satisfaction which is healthy, but you have got to stay motivated and set new goals. Reaching the number one spot has always been one of my goals. I still want to hold on to that spot for some time, and I also want to grab the World Championship title. So these are my two biggest challenges and targets at the moment.
“Nobody from my close circle ever discouraged me, maybe some teachers, but I never paid attention to anyone who’s ever said anything of the sort to me”
Were there people who discouraged you when first started out with clichés like “sports aren’t for women”, or “you should find a stable job”?
Surprisingly, no. My family has always been very supportive of what I do; they still support me until today. Nobody from my close circle ever discouraged me, maybe some teachers, but I never paid attention to anyone who’s ever said anything of the sort to me.
If you didn’t play squash, what would your passion have been?
I would have loved to play a musical instrument, drums or guitar maybe. I played the drums twice only so far (laughs), but I never really have the time.
“Having two Egyptians, Mohamed El Shorbagy and myself, as the number 1’s for the first time in the history of squash is huge”
You became the first Egyptian woman to be No. 1 at any sport, are you getting any special recognition since then?
Yes, the media attention I got when I achieved that was huge. I never really liked being the center of attention, so not getting any special recognition throughout most of our careers as squash players (all of us, not just me) never bothered me. Recognition this time is very good, not for me, but for squash to get attention and be joined by more juniors. I believe the media should pay more attention to all other sports because that’s how you spread the idea of athleticism and increase your chances of any medals in the Olympics.
Having 5 girls and guys in the international categories in Squash is not to be underestimated. Having two Egyptians, Mohamed El Shorbagy and myself, as the number 1’s for the first time in the history of squash is huge.
Do you think society encourages athletes, and female athletes in specific?
Yes, the importance of sports and athleticism is increasing one year after the other. If you look at the statistics of Egyptian participants in the next Olympics so far with examples like Ehab Abdelrahman, Farida Osman and Ahmed Akram and many many more, you’d understand what I mean.
What do you think Egyptian female athletes need?
Egyptian Athletes in general need more attention from the government, being a top country in sports achievements would really put Egypt on the map from a new and different aspect.
Tell us a little about the fierce competition between you and the Malaysian player Nicol David.
The competition between not just me but all the girls on the tour and Malaysia’s Number 1 and World number 1 for the past nine years has always been fierce.
She is a legend. She’s achieved what I’m sure nobody will ever be able to achieve again. In the last season I managed to beat her just twice – not just me, everyone has been after her. After the calculation of all the points of last season I managed to get past her, but only with a very few points.
What has been your proudest moment until now?
Reaching the number one spot is something I’ve always dreamed of, my family dreamed of, my coaches Haitham Effat and Ahmed Faragallah have been working on with me for the past 6 years. So yes reaching that goal and making all their hard work pay off makes me so happy for not just me but also for them.
Do you get competitive with your husband Tarek Momen?
(Laughs) No, I don’t stand a chance with him on court; he’d chop me in minutes. That’s how good he is. So supporting one another suffices in this case.
“If the media give other sports half the attention that they give to soccer, then maybe the private sector will be interested in sponsoring us”
How do you feel about all the attention and funding soccer gets in comparison to other sports?
The government’s funds to all sports are equal. It’s the private sector that chooses to support soccer, because it’s the only sport that’s always shown on TV and in the newspapers, because it’s the country’s favorite.
It is the media that needs to start showing all the other sports on TV so that the people can follow us and know what it is we do. If the media give other sports half the attention that they give to soccer, then maybe the private sector will be interested in sponsoring us.
What do women want?
Women want to be happy.