07 Mar 2020
Ahead of International Women’s Day, Pakistan’s first-ever representative at the Winter Youth Olympic Games (YOG) reveals how she hopes to inspire more girls – from her country and around the world – to take up sports and follow their dreams.
Lausanne 2020 saw a record 79 National Olympic Committees (NOCs) represented, with 12 of them sending athletes to a Winter YOG for the first time. Athletes from Albania, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Haiti, Kosovo, Qatar, Singapore, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Trinidad and Tobago, and Hong Kong (China) all made history in their own way, but it was an Alpine skier competing for Pakistan – a country with mountains but little tradition in winter sports – who made perhaps the biggest impact.
“It’s quite incredible to be representing a whole country on your own,” said Mia Nuriah Freudweiler, whose involvement was particularly significant as she was representing a country where women’s participation in winter sports has been limited. Only three Pakistani athletes, all male, have competed at the Olympic Winter Games, so Freudweiler’s Winter YOG appearance was a landmark and chimed perfectly with Lausanne 2020’s historic 50/50 gender parity.
Perhaps Freudweiler could one day become the first woman to represent the country on the world’s biggest winter sports stage, but most of all she wants to encourage other young Pakistani girls to break through and chase their dreams. Ahead of International Women’s Day, we caught up with the 16-year-old to discuss her YOG experience and the impact she hopes it can have.
How was your overall experience of Lausanne 2020?
“It was great! Staying in the Youth Olympic Village was a unique experience, and I loved all the activities – the Athlete365 Awareness Zone, being in the Yodli Café, the Chat with Champions. Generally ski races are just about skiing, but at Lausanne 2020 we had the opportunity to learn about every aspect of being an athlete.
“That was really amazing, and being able to meet loads of nations, federations and athletes was fun too. We were all just chatting about sports and about how our competitions went, and I loved asking where athletes come from. I met a girl from Trinidad and Tobago; I met a girl from Cyprus; from Thailand; from Portugal. I find it so cool to hear about the different countries.”
How did you come to represent Pakistan?
“My mum is from Pakistan so I’m half Pakistani, but I grew up in Switzerland, in Villars-sur-Ollon where one of the Lausanne 2020 venues was. I skied for Switzerland until the category of under-16, and once I passed that category I changed my ski license. I got my Pakistani passport and ID card, and I’ve been racing for Pakistan for a year now.”
Were you proud to compete for Pakistan at Lausanne 2020?
“Yes, extremely. To be the only athlete at Lausanne 2020 [representing Pakistan], I think it shows the rest of the world that Pakistan has potential in winter sports and Alpine skiing. Hopefully in the next YOG and the next Olympic Winter Games, they’ll be able to bring more athletes and a bigger team.”
What was it like to carry the Pakistan flag in the Opening Ceremony?
“The feeling was incredible. Waiting to go out and wave the flag was a bit nerve-wracking, but extremely exciting at the same time. And walking out and having thousands of people looking at you was unbelievable.”
What kind of impact do you hope that your YOG participation can have in Pakistan?
“I hope that I can inspire young women to continue their hobby or their sport up to a high level, and stay dedicated. Also, I hope the tourism in Pakistan can develop so that the winter sports and the skiing can develop. Because it has potential.”
Did you want to push the message of gender equality by participating in the YOG?
“Yes, especially in Pakistan where we don’t have equal rights yet. Hopefully me being here is a message to everybody saying that women can make it too.”
Who was the most inspiring woman that you met at Lausanne 2020?
“That’s a big question! I think Virginie Faivre; it’s amazing what she’s done.”