• Daniah Hagul, 17, will represent Libya at the Rio Olympics next month. (Twitter)
Libyans have taken part 10 Olympics, but never won a medal. But this August, Daniah Hagul hopes to change that.
By
Shami Sivasubramanian

26 Jul 2016 - 4:47 PM  UPDATED 26 Jul 2016 - 4:48 PM

17-year-old Daniah Hagul will represent her native country of Libya in swimming at the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio, and it's thanks in part to people all over the world.

Hagul launched a crowd funding campaign on the GoFundMe website; her campaign was titled "Help Fund Daniah's Olympic Dream!" and collected over 6,800 euros (about AUD $9950) in just one month.  

Those funds along with a grant from Libyan conglomerate HBGroup has help Hagul's parents bear the training and travel costs that come with being an Olympian.

"I remember watching the 2012 London Olympics at my grandfather's farm in Azzahra, Libya where we used to spend all our summer holidays," she told France24.

"I used to watch all the swimming events really closely and thought how wonderful it would be if I could represent Libya at the next Olympics."

And now that dream has become a reality, with support flooding in for the teen on social media.

However her country has been less than supportive of her aspirations. In Libya, a staunchly-Islamic state, it is frowned upon for women to wear swimsuits in public, even though Hagul will not be the first female swimmer to represent her country at the Olympic Games. The first were Soad and Nadia Fezzani at the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

But in addition to cultural pushback, both the Libyan Swimming Federation and Libyan Olympic Committee have faced financial and political limitations since the country’s revolution against Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.

Add to that, several swimming facilities have been shut down as a result of the country’s political unrest. 

Hagul, therefore, trains in Malta where her parents have lived since the '90s. It is also a country, she said, that is more open to swimming and water sports.

"In Malta it gets really hot in the summer. Everyone is always either in the pool or in the sea and everyone has to know how to swim," she said.

"So I began swimming lessons just to know how to swim at about the age of three or four. And when I was 12 I just decided that I wanted to take it up properly, competitively."

Since then, Hagul has earned a spot at the prestigious Mount Kelly school in Britain, which has 19 Olympic and Commonwealth Games qualifying swimmers and six Olympic medalists to its name.

Libya’s Rio Olympic team is modest in size, with only a handful of athletes competing in judo, taekwondo, athletics, rowing, and swimming events.

The only other Libyan swimmer to compete this year is Ahmed Attellesey, who will swim in the 50-metre freestyle event. Like Hagul, he also trains abroad, in Sweden.

But Hagul hopes that by competing in the Olympics and “making [her] country proud” she can change the mentality toward female competitive swimming in Libya.

"A significant number of boys but hardly any other girls swim, so I hope that they watch me and are inspired to do the same," she said.

"However, I truly believe it all starts with parents who should challenge rigid mindsets by encouraging and supporting their girls to pursue this great sport."


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