Meriem Cherni Mizouni: “This is the greatest reward for a whole life devoted to sport!”

Secretary of State for Sport, Chairwoman of the Tunisian Olympic Committee (CNOT)’s Women and Sport Commission, and Tunisia’s first female Olympian, at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, former swimmer Meriem Cherni Mizouni has devoted her life to promoting and including women in sport at all levels. Today, she is being honoured by the IOC, which has awarded her its Women and Sport World Trophy for 2014. We spoke to the winner.

What does this Trophy represent for you?
“A great moment of emotion and pride. This is the greatest reward for a whole life devoted to sport. I am especially proud for my country, Tunisia, which since achieving independence has never stopped striving for progress, openness and tolerance. Proud too for Tunisian women, who over time have become a symbol for the struggle against hatred, violence, fanaticism and obscurantism. Proud for my NOC, which is resolutely engaged in supporting the Olympic values. Proud for the Women and Sport Commission, and for all the sports men and women in Tunisia. It is to them that I dedicate this award, with a special mention for Tunisian women, who have been and continue to be actively involved in the development of Tunisia and the triumph of peace in our country.”

What impact will this award have for your continuing work to promote women in the world of sport?
“I hope that this award will allow more women of all ages and social levels to have greater access to sport through the ‘Women’s Olympic Caravan’ project. After the success of two big events, the ‘Women’s Sports Night’ (2012) and the ‘Women’s Sports Festival’ (2014), and in response to the request from several cities and women’s associations, the Women and Sport Commission is proposing to run this initiative throughout 2015, with one event each month for several regions of the country, essentially the most disadvantaged ones with the lowest level of women’s sports participation. The programme will cover 12 cities in the country. Women’s clubs, schools and the general public will be the main target groups. At the same time, this award will allow us to work on mapping the situation of women’s sport in Tunisia and the programmes to be developed.”

Why is there a need for this mapping?
“There are many different players in the field of women and sport: universities, sports clubs, ministries, the CNOT, etc.; but at the moment, we have no country-wide data to allow us to say exactly how, when and where Tunisian women practise sport. The goal is thus to identify and inventory how women practise sport, define their strengths and weaknesses, and propose a development plan.”

What first got you interested in sport, and particularly working for the cause of women in sport?
“I owe my vocation and my whole career to my father, who was himself a swimming coach. It was he who got me into the pool at the age of four and taught me to swim. At the time, the leader of my country was encouraging the emancipation of women. So I was proud to be one of those who represented this equality between boys and girls that was being encouraged. I gradually became committed to making greater sports participation by women a cause of my own. Even more so when I became national champion. I wanted all the girls in Tunisia to experience the joy of standing on the podium and seeing their national flag raised at international sports events. Since then, I have never stopped working for this, through all the positions of responsibility I have held, from coach and trainer to leader, international swimming judge, Chairwoman of the CNOT Women and Sport Commission and then Secretary of State for Sport.

What is your message for this new generation of young men and women?
“My message is an appeal to everyone, young and old, male and female, to get involved in sport; to practise it every day; to encourage those around them to practise it; and to take on board the noble values it transmits. It is the best promoter of the values of friendship and solidarity. It guarantees a tolerant and peaceful world. We should all support the efforts being made jointly by the IOC and the UN to make sport a vehicle for development and peace.”

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