Dubai: Oman’s Raiya Al Habsi has become the first Arab woman to be nominated for the Rolex World Sailor of the Year Awards.
The 25-year-old is one of four female sailors announced in the women’s category of the International Sailing Federation-organised (ISAF) annual award nominations, along with Jo Aleh and Olivia Powrie of New Zealand and Deneen Demourkas and Erika Heineken of the US. The winner will be announced at the ISAF annual conference in Oman on November 12.
Famous former recipients of the men’s award include five-time Olympic medallist Sir Ben Ainslie of Great Britain and four-time America’s Cup winner Sir Russell Coutts of New Zealand.
Al Habsi, who only learnt how to sail two years ago when selected to join the Oman Sail Women’s Sailing Programme, earned herself a place in the record books this year as the first Omani woman to compete in Britain’s world-famous Rolex Fastnet Race as crew aboard Oman’s flagship MOD70 Oman Air-Musandam. They event went on to win the race’s Mocra class.
“This nomination is a great honour for me, my teammates in the Oman National Women’s Racing Team, my family and country. It is something I would never have dreamed of a year ago,” said Al Habsi.
“It is a first for an Arab woman and I hope it will greatly contribute towards encouraging more women in the region to take up sailing and realise there are no boundaries to what they can achieve. I hope it will also encourage more Arab families to support their daughters, sisters and female relatives to get involved in sailing.”
Al Habsi’s meteoric rise started when she was a member of the first all-women’s team Al Thuraya Bank Muscat to compete in Sailing Arabia — The Tour in 2012, a 15-day, 760-nautical mile annual Gulf coast challenge. Their fourth place earned her and two fellow Omanis the prestigious Al Mara Excellence Award for the most high-achieving women in sport in Oman.
In February this year she was once again on an all-women’s team Al Thuraya Bank Muscat crew competing in EFG Sailing Arabia — The Tour before going on to France as skipper of Oman’s first women’s entry in a series of offshore international regattas culminating in the J80 Worlds in Marseille.