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Nawal El Moutawakel - the first Moroccan, African and Muslim Woman to Win an Olympic Gold Medal

Nawal El Moutawakel made history in 1984 when she became the first Moroccan, African and Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

Nawal El Moutawakel (Amazigh: Nawal Lmutawakkil; Arabic: نوال المتوكل‎; born on April 15, 1962 in Casablanca) is a former Moroccan hurdler, who won the inaugural women's 400 metres hurdles event at the 1984 Summer Olympics, thereby becoming the first female Muslim born on the continent of Africa to become an Olympic champion. She was also the first Moroccan and the first woman from a Muslim majority country to win an Olympic gold medal.

Nawal’s watershed performance was watched live in her hometown of Casablanca in the early hours of the morning and locals poured onto the streets to celebrate. Her Olympic success earned her instant recognition in her country and the King of Morocco decreed that all girls born on the date of her victory were to be named in her honour.

Although a stunning accomplishment, it was not a surprise result. She was groomed at Iowa State University in the United States and had been running with considerable success on the hotly-competitive American collegiate scene over the previous two years.

Her Olympic achievement was the breakthrough that gave Moroccan women much-needed belief in themselves and the courage to take up sport, which had previously been regarded as the preserve of men.

El Moutawakel, a mother of two children, daughter Zineb and son Roda, certainly received all the support she desired from her parents, especially her father Mohammed.

“In my religion, women were never forbidden to compete. Women could compete equally as men, and that’s why I felt growing up in an environment that was very supportive, very positive until today, so I don’t think there is any resistance whatsoever.”

She still remains active in Moroccan athletics and for many years was involved in the Government. She was Inspector at the Ministry of Youth and Sports (1989 -1997), Secretary of State to the Minister of Social Affairs, responsible for Youth and Sport (1997-1998) and Minister of Youth and Sports (2007-2009).

She has made the cause of health and fitness and participation of women in sport the centre piece of her philosophy. As organiser of the Courir pour le Plaisir (Run for Fun), an annual 10 km fun run which attracts up to 30,000 women in Casablanca, she has put her beliefs into practice.

Her influence internationally has also increased significantly in recent years. In 1995, she became a council member of the International Association of Athletics Federations and two years later she became the first Muslim woman ever to be elected to the International Olympic Committee.

A member of the IOC Women and Sports Commission, the IOC Marketing Commission and the IOC International Relations Commission, in 2004 she was appointed Chair of the IOC Evaluation Commission for the 2012 Olympic Games.

In January 2010, she was appointed Chair of the IOC’s Co-ordination Commission for Rio and in July 2012 she was elected a Vice-President of the International Olympic Committee - the first woman from a Muslim and Arab nation ever to be elected. In 2015 she was presented with the Légion d’Honneur by French President Francois Hollande.

She was a founder member of the Laureus World Sports Academy and has been Vice Chair and Trustee of the Laureus Sport for Good Foundation. In 2010 she won the Laureus Lifetime Achievement Award for her work for women in sport and the International Olympic Committee.

On December 21, 2017, Nawal El Moutawakel was awarded the National Order of the Southern Cross (Commander Class) by the Brazilian Government at a ceremony held in Rabat (Morocco). This is the highest honour that can be awarded by Brazil to foreign nationals to express the gratitude of the Brazilian nation. El Moutawakel received the honour from the Brazilian Ambassador to Morocco, José Humberto de Brito Cruz, in recognition of her contribution to the success of the Olympic Games Rio 2016 as the Chair of the IOC Coordination Commission.



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