GW Swimmer Sameera Al Bitar Attends U.N. General Assembly Sports Event
Sept. 30, 2011
Last week, George Washington senior swimmer Sameera Al Bitar had the unique opportunity to attend the 66th United Nations General Assembly in New York for the "In The Arena: Sports as a Catalyst for International Development" program.
The event, sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, was dedicated to the idea of using sport as a catalyst for improving and expanding international relationships.
Al Bitar represented her home country of Bahrain, and was one of over 200 guests chosen to attend the event. She listened to speakers such as Bob Ley of ESPN, baseball legend Pedro Martinez and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo.
GWsports.com chatted with Al Bitar about her experiences at the event.
Q: How did the opportunity to attend this event come about?
A: As a swimmer for Bahrain, I was contacted by the embassy. Since a huge delegation was going to New York for the General Assembly, there was a special program for athletes to talk about sports and international development. They wanted an athlete from Bahrain to be present at the conference, so they asked me to attend. Bahrain is a very small country, so the athletes are well known and are registered with the embassy. Since I swam in the Olympics for Bahrain, I was fortunate enough to be chosen.
Q: What did you do while at the General Assembly?
A: The main purpose was to attend the USAID conference with a few others from the Bahrainian delegation. The event was set up like a discussion, which was based on sport as a catalyst for international development. Several people spoke and there was a panel discussion with many famous athletes like Pedro Martinez and Dikembe Mutombo. They spoke about using their individual sports to further the community.
Q: What does it mean to you to represent Bahrain at such a prestigious event?
A: It means a lot to be chosen for this event and feels good to be able to represent my country. It is an honor to swim for Bahrain, as I am one of just two women on the team. The experience was great because once I finish swimming; I would like to do something with my community and try to get more women in the Middle East involved in sports. Bahrain is a very progressive country in comparison to many of our neighbors, and it's wonderful that they give women the chance to compete in athletics.
Q: Do you think you influence young girls who look up to female athletes such as yourself?
A: I think it gives girls hope that they too can accomplish their dreams in the future. Bahrain, though it encourages female athletics, is also a conservative country at the same time. I hope that girls of younger generations see that they too can compete in sports on an international level.
Q: What was the most memorable part about the conference?
A: It was interesting to see the three main athletes (Martinez, Mutombo and Olympic ice skater Johann Koss), who were all from different countries, speak about their journeys after they finished playing sports. They all gave back to and helped their countries so much. It was very eye-opening and gave me ideas on how I could help in the future.
Q: What did you take away from the event?
A: It has always been my goal to go back to Bahrain and help young women have the same experiences that I was fortunate enough to have. This conference made me realize how important sports are for international development and what sports can do to break barriers between countries. I am very thankful to Bahrain for giving me the experience to go to New York.
To learn more about the UN General Assembly USAID, click here.