We have over time written of women who have been pioneers in their sport, pushing boundaries and setting new standards that allow the next generation
to start in a much better position. From the women who fought for the right to participate in sport (Boxing and Marathons are two good examples)
to those who worked full-time whilst representing their country at the weekend. Golf may be one of the more progressive sports for women, but at
onlytwenty eight Maha Haddioui is already a pioneer for Golf.
Maha is the first Arab to gain a pro card and travel the world playing Golf professionally, what a contrast to her first encounter with Golf. Being
marched back to your mother by the caddy master of the Golf course because you were running around the course misbehaving is not what you expect
to hear from Maha's introduction to Golf. Maha laughs as she explains the scene with this being the first time the family (who don't play Golf)
went to the Golf club for lunch only for her to misbehave.
Maha's mother defused the situation by encouraging her to go and spend some time on the driving range saying, "how do you know if you don't try it?"
- and an instant a love for the game began. Within a month Maha was secretly going to the driving range to practise. As she explains, "I would
hide to go and practise, not telling my friends what I was doing".
Maha explains that with very few girls at the time playing or taking Golf seriously, she would have to travel a lot to get to play competitive Golf
and in the main tournaments. "It was tough at first but really good preparation for the tour," Maha explains of having to fend for herself at such
an early age as her parents could no longer maintain the commitment to travel with her.By fifteen she was representing Morocco at international
level just to add further to the travel.
Fast forward five years of college in the USA and what had been fun but not professional, became a crossroads for Maha. She explains the conversation
with her mother about her future and the ultimatum she was given. "Mum told me this is your chance, we didn't send you to the USA for 5 years just
to play Golf for fun and not do anything".
Maha knew she had to go to tour school and qualify as this is what she wanted to do. With the ultimatum in her head she wentqualifying school and wonher
Pro card to the excitement of everyone around her apart from Maha. From her point of view, she had set herself the goal and achieved it through
a lot of hard work and determination, so it was no surprise to her. "I had worked very hard and I knew I would do it so it was not a surprise to
me", she explains.
The surprisedid eventually dawn along with a weight of responsibility that Maha had not realised prior to wanting to gain her tour card. She was the
first Arab, either male or female, to gain a tour card. As Maha explains, "it was only afterwards that I realised I was the first Arab, male or
female to get a tour card. It was a tough year with people talking and expecting so much and focusing on me."
As we talk about what it means to be Arab and a Golfer I am impressed by how Maha has handled and continues to handle the pressure and focus on her
around this subject. Many athletes will use their faith, colour or creed as a crutch or as a tool to try and get any edge they can if it means
them getting ahead in their chosen sport. I have seen athletes really work this to the max to gain publicity, raise money and sponsorship and even
in a couple of cases trying to have rules bent to allow them to compete. Maha summed it up best when she said, "I try not to think about it (being
Arab), I put myself under pressure though. I feel like an ambassador. I feel responsible and I want to show a good side as there is so much negative
at the moment".
Maha is very aware of the huge potential pressure there is for her, given her unique position - but she is approaching it not only in a mature manner
beyond her years, but in one that sets her out as a trail blazer. Trailblazers whohave through the years not bowed to the pressure of the moment
but have let their actions and sporting achievements speak for themselves and Maha is no exception here. Through all our conversation Maha displayed
such humility and steely determination to succeed for what she does rather than to allow people to try and mould her for their own gains. She talks
with clarity about being an Arab and what it means to her whilst not getting on a soapbox. She provides example after example of the uneducated
and ignorant things people ask her because she is Arab. Maha is calm and clear in her answers to all these questions, explaining time and time
again her point of view, the life she leads in Morocco and that she is unable to comment on other countries or the whole Arab world. As far as
Maha is concerned she is a woman from Morocco who plays Golf professionally around the world and she loves it. She is an Arab as well, but she
doesn't see that she is any different to any player on the tour or that this is the reason for her being on tour.
Maha wants to be and is an ambassador for the Arab world, who in my opinion is a perfect one, displaying all the characteristics needed to walk the
path she has chosen. Maha follows in the footsteps that the late PrincessLalla Aichawho set the path for women in Golf in the Arab world. Maha
is now taking this to the next level: not only is she the first Arab to have a tour card, but she is now off to Rio to compete in arguably the
largest sporting stage in the world, the Olympics. She has come a long way from the girl being told off for running around on the Golf course,
but she has done so with a strength of character, steely determination and clarity that will ensure she goes down in history as a pioneer and trial