Since 2018, British Triathlon and the Muslimah Sports Association have been organising weekly cycling and running sessions for local women in London.
The Muslimah Sports Association (MSA) aims to offer women a safe and positive environment to participate in sport, without compromising their religious or cultural beliefs.
They also work with different national governing bodies and local authorities to provide expert guidance and support on engaging Muslim and BAME women into sport and physical activity.
In September 2018, British Triathlon started working with the MSA to provide weekly coached sessions to help introduce local women to running and cycling and give them the confidence to participate.
What started as a six-week GO TRI programme has developed into continuous sessions that help give participants confidence in both disciplines, as well as helping to build relationships and community within the group.
Since it started over 500 women have taken part, with a core group of regular women participating throughout the year.
Yashmin Harun, Chair and Founder of the MSA, said: “When British Triathlon approached us about the sessions it appealed to us as a good way to help women participate in two activities that need little specialist equipment.
“British Triathlon had the contact with the cycling centre which allowed us to hire the venue at the right time and in a safe environment for the women, as well recruit qualified coaches to the sessions. The partnership has allowed us to help women who always wanted to learn to ride, but never knew where to start.”
By providing women-only sessions, this allows female Muslims who wear a hijab the freedom to participate without wearing one if they feel comfortable to, knowing that all participants and coaches are female.
For many Muslim women, modesty in public can be a barrier to participation, and the sessions are accommodating to women who choose to participate with or without a hijab.
“There are some cultural and religious barriers that Muslim women face when it comes to exercise,” added Harun. “However, these sessions were able to overcome them.
“The timing of the sessions is really important as it is during the school day, which allows stay-at-home mums to participate having dropped their children at school and opportunity for women who couldn’t access our existing evening activities.
“The cycling centre provides bikes, helmets, seats, gloves and any other equipment needed so this makes it more accessible to the participants as well.
“Some of the ladies have learned to ride a bike and have really fallen in love with biking and running. The women have also forged strong friendships and a social circle which they engage with outside of the sessions.”
The programme has worked with local female coaches to help deliver the sessions, helping to give expert advice and support to the women, and helping to build their confidence and cycling and running skills.
“We’ve created a relaxed environment in the group that’s welcoming to any new member who wants to join,” commented Dawn Hunter, one of the British Triathlon qualified coaches.
“It’s all about encouraging the women to feel confident and comfortable when taking part. Everything is optional and adaptable to the women, whilst always helping them to develop the basic skills they need to get involved.”
The weekly sessions last for an hour and a half, giving participants plenty of time on both activities and allowing them to go at their own pace.
Salma Quaium, who works for MSA and participates in the sessions, commented: “Several women, including myself, have learnt to cycle through the sessions, and numerous others have regained their confidence having not cycled since they were children.
“Generally, women feel very conscious to exercise or participate in activities publicly, and these sessions create that private environment for them.”
Over the last two years, the sessions have developed, offering the women a chance to complete a timed duathlon (run-bike-run) to allow them to track their improvement.
The sessions are open to any women to participate to help build their confidence in cycling and running, with the programme aiming to resume in the autumn.
Jon Train, British Triathlon Regional Manager for London, said: “Working with the MSA has been a great experience and enabled us to engage Muslim women in cycling and running activities.
“Our coaches have developed trust and relationships with the participants, which has been key to their success, and we’ve worked hard with the cycling centre and MSA to make the sessions as open and accessible as possible to remove different barriers to participation.
“It’s been great to see women from different culture and faith backgrounds engage with the sessions, and to see them develop in their running and cycling confidence.”