Meet the Match
An Innovator and Coach Inspires Moroccan Women
Naoual Zaaraoui was born to become an athlete.
From the time she was 5 years old, Naoual would accompany her father, El Ghazi, a 1964 Olympian and seven-time track and field world champion, to the track. She was his shadow, mimicking all his movements. Whereas most of her friends in Rabat preferred to stay inside to play with dolls, Naoual wanted to be outside moving, whether it was playing soccer with the boys, jumping around in gymnastics class, or eventually competing on the track herself.
“I’d come home all the time with dirty clothes,” Naoual says. “My mom never punished me. She said, ‘Every time you bring home dirty clothes, it shows me you will follow your dad into sports.’ She told me she wanted to see me as sports minister one day.”
Through her school years, Naoual competed on the athletics team, and specialized in the long jump. In 2010, while she was working on a diploma in sports training from the Royal Institute of Sports, however, she suffered a knee injury that ended her competitive career.
Naoual’s new focus became a career in sports. In 2016, as she was completing her master’s degree in sports management and governance at the National School of Commerce and Management, she was accepted for an internship at the University of Leipzig. Naoual excelled at the university and was later named the Moroccan sports ambassador for the prestigious International Trainer Course (ITK).
After returning home, Naoual worked as a project manager for TIBU Basketball Academy, an NGO focused on basketball and youth development, and as a brand ambassador for Nike. She was then hired by the Ministry of Sports and assigned to be and a youth track and field coach with the Royal Moroccan Athletics Federation.
“My dream in life was to discover the other parts of the world through sports,” Naoual says. “For me, sport brings together people from all cultures, regions, and religions. It made my dreams come true. Sport is not just about good health and body image. It can give you everything.”
While Naoual believes in sport’s ability to positively impact the lives of girls and women in her country, there are significant challenges preventing them from experiencing its benefits. Morocco ranks among the lowest in the world in key gender equality indicators, such as economic empowerment, education, and health. According to an International Monetary Fund study, 78 percent of girls in rural areas do not attend school, and only 25 percent of women are part of the country’s workforce.
In a push toward gender equality, the Moroccan government passed key legislation in the past decade, expanding the rights of women in marriage, guardianship, child custody, access to divorce, and a constitutional guarantee for equality. While access to sports is increasing, cultural challenges persist. From Naoual’s experience, many women cannot or are unwilling to exercise or practice sports in places where men are present. For those of Naoual’s generation, fitness and physical activity are also seen for their aesthetic benefits, and not for developing healthy lifestyles.
“But, then you see women who are 40 years old running with traditional clothes just because they love sport,” Naoual says. “I want to prove women can do sports everywhere and any time they want. We don’t need any special facilities to run. From a small thing, we can make a big thing.”
Although Naoual’s ultimate dream is to become Morocco’s second female sports minister, she is also working on creating her own company, The Glorious Horse Agency, as a way of providing women with career opportunities.
“I want to prove that when a woman creates a project, she can take it to the last step,” Naoual says. “For us, the project is like a baby. We must do everything to make it grow up and have a good future. With this we can change the way of thinking toward women.”
Naoual is ready to maximize her platform as a female sports leader in Morocco. During the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program, she was mentored by Laurie French, director of technology operations, and Jenna Tidd, section business operations coordinator, for the PGA of America. As the world’s largest sports organization, with more than 28,000 men and women golf professionals, the PGA of America has a strong record promoting women’s initiatives, as well as organizing some of golf’s most important events. Laurie and Jenna collaborated to provide Naoual with the sports marketing, communications, and organizational leadership skills she needs to pave her entrepreneurial path in Morocco. Naoual also shared her own experiences, international perspective, and knowledge of women in sports with the PGA of America, a global brand. Together, this trio of women are working to inspire a new and brighter future for generations of working women and aspiring female athletes in Morocco.