BEIRUT: When talking about the success stories of Lebanese sportswomen, we cannot but mention the name of basketball player Rebecca Akl. The Point Guard, alongside the Lebanese women’s national team, hit the headlines last week when they were crowned champions of the 2019 West Asia Championship following a 74-48 win over Syria in the final game held in Amman, Jordan.
Akl, Captain of the team since 2017 and tournament’s Most Valuable and Best Assist Player, had a lot to share with NAYA after she contributed to the big win.
“We weren’t well prepared for the tournament because we didn’t have enough time to practice,” the Lebanese-Brazilian player told Annahar. “We had high hopes, and good team spirit, chemistry, and coordination, thus ended up winning.”
Akl’s recent accomplishment is now added to a list of numerous achievements and accolades. She won four Lebanese championships, four Arab cups, four WABA championships, and was named for several times as best guard, best three-point shooter, and most valuable player among others. She was also the captain of the under-18 Lebanese women’s national team and won the 2010 Arab Tournament Championship.
Akl majored in Business and completed an MBA at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik, but never made use of her academic degrees. She chose to be a devoted athlete instead.
Having been raised among two older male siblings who are professional basketball players, her passion for the game is justifiable.
“My older brother, Rodrigue, saw how skilled I was since childhood. He, therefore, focused on developing this ability by training and teaching me advanced tricks that people my age didn’t know about,” she said.
Akl had always considered basketball as a God-given talent, for which she fought despite all stereotypes, aiming to develop it into a skill.
“At some point in my life, my parents weren’t supportive enough. They didn’t like the idea of seeing their daughter so much involved in this activity while neglecting other things,” she stated.
“I used to tell them: to me, basketball is a message. I will not stop; on the contrary, I will practice more to improve and make my dream – playing and representing Lebanon abroad – come true,” she added.
Her dream came true indeed. Akl, who played for Riyadi and Homenetmen clubs in the Women Lebanese Basketball League, will be playing the upcoming season in the Greek League for Athens-based club Esperides Kallitheas.
“I am very excited about this opportunity and looking forward to representing my country overseas,” Akl told Annahar. “I have to admit that the challenge is big. I will be playing alongside and competing with advanced competent players, but I will do my best to excel, prove myself, and make Lebanon proud.”
When asked about her plans after her contract with the Greek club ends in March 2020, Akl smiled and said: “Those shall depend on my performance and the offers I’ll be receiving.”
Akl today has all the support and motivation in the world from her parents, brothers, family, and friends. However, discouragement might come sometimes from new people she meets, especially when they find out that she is a full-time basketball player.
“Some think that women aren’t supposed to play basketball – or any other sports,” Akl noted. “I am often even asked this question: ‘Do you play rough like men?’”
"What they don’t understand is that competitive sports do not make women less feminine. Sports tend to give me poise, confidence, and self-reliance but that doesn't lessen my femininity.”
Akl went on to say that the negative vibes had never affected her, adding: “I let my skill speak for itself.”
On her best game so far
Akl shared with NAYA a story that changed her life.
“I was 16 years old playing with the Lebanese women’s national team. I was very young back then and was, consequently, the benchwarmer most of the time,” she recounted. “The basketball competition at the 2009 Jeux de la Francophonie (Francophone Games) took place that year and I could remember well the match in which our team was playing against Romania. As soon as the coach realized that there was no hope to win since the competing team scored 50 more points, he decided to let me play for the last 15 minutes. And to everyone’s surprise, I didn’t miss any shot and scored 11 points in the time I played.”
She added: “The following day we had a game against Cameroon and the coach let me play for 30 minutes.”
More than just a game
Akl and her brothers founded Brainers Academy in 2013 to train young and eager basketball lovers and help them develop their passion for the sport. They have more than 300 enrolled players today.
“It is more than just a game,” Akl emphasized. “Basketball has given me a lot and it always feels good to pay back.”
For this exact reason, Akl also established Back’s, her non-profit foundation. Through this NGO, she seeks to help people with special needs by giving them free sports training sessions and other types of mental and physical assistance.
On women in sports
Akl stressed that despite the fact that women and men participate equally in this sport, there are still several forms of gender inequalities that exist.
“Females athletes are paid less than men regardless of the equal amount of work they both put in,” she explained. “Media coverage is still dominated by male athletes in most parts of the world. Female athletes are not only underrepresented in sports media, but are also subject to bias and sexism.”
She highlighted the need for addressing this gender gap and other issues such as the lack of targeted investment that would enable more women and girls to have a career in sport.
Locally, Akl pointed out the importance of gaining the government's support. She noted that whether it was moral or financial, it can help them advance.
“Women in sport defy gender stereotypes and social norms. My advice for them is: Do whatever you are passionate about. It doesn’t matter if you do it on your own or as part of a wider group. We, a team of ambitious females, fought the society and people’s criticism and got to where we are today. You can do the same," Akl said.
Welcome to “NAYA,” the newest addition to Annahar’s coverage. This section aims at fortifying Lebanese women’s voices by highlighting their talents, challenges, innovations, and women’s empowerment. We will also be reporting on the world of work, family, style, health, and culture. NAYA is devoted to women of all generations. NAYA Editor, Sally Farhat: [email protected]
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