Nasr, Na'ila (1959–)

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Nasr, Na'ila

A "national treasure" of the People's Democratic Republic of Yemen (South Yemen; PDRY, 1970–1990), Na'ila Nasr Hassan Abbas Nasr was that state's highest ranked table tennis player and was an important national model for the goal of women's equality. She continues to promote women's sports through membership on the Republic of Yemen's Olympic Committee.


Nasr was born in Aden in 1959. Her father, a graduate of the American University in Beirut, was a prominent member of Yemeni Socialist Party. A sportsman, he promoted physical fitness and coached boys' teams in local schools.

Nasr began playing table tennis for fun at home. She began to practice seriously in 1973 while attending intermediate school in Aden. Her talent and potential were soon recognized and she was invited to join the al-Mina' sports club to receive professional coaching. Paradoxically, her father was happy with her success but discouraged her competing at higher levels. In contrast, her mother supported her strongly and continued to do so as her athletic career developed.

Nasr was selected to the first national table tennis team, which trained at the al-Mina' club. In addition to training in Aden with coaches from the PDRY's Sovietbloc allies, she also trained in the Soviet Union.

As a member of the national team Nasr represented the PDRY from 1976 to 1985. During her career she participated in 161 international tournaments. In these contests, she and her partners achieved a number of high finishes including the gold medal in women's doubles at the Seventh Arab Schools Tournament in Tripoli, Libya. In 1981 she became the PDRY champion, a title she held until 1985. Despite her schedule, Nasr was enrolled in the civil engineering program at Aden University, from which she graduated in 1984.

Following her retirement from competition, Nasr served as deputy chair of the PDRY Table Tennis Association and as a member of the Olympic Committee. In 1989 she was named captain of the national team. Her active involvement in sports lapsed following the unification of the PDRY and the Yemen Arab Republic (North Yemen) in 1990.

For most of the next decade, she focused on her engineering career in the civil aviation ministry. In 2000 she was invited to join the Yemen Olympic Committee where she has served on the executive and administrative committees. When, in July 2003, the Arab Women's table tennis tournament was held in San'a, Nasr was asked to form the Yemen entry; she also coached the team.


From 1970 to 1990 the PDRY followed a Marxist-Leninist form of socialism. A central tenet was the equality of women and men, and this objective became a hallmark of state policy, although its acceptance was more pronounced in cities, especially the more cosmopolitan capital Aden. Legislative efforts were made to promote equality in education, employment, family, and recreation. The state adopted the Soviet model of sports as a means to achieve equality and promote physical well-being, and received support and training from the Soviet bloc.

Although veiling was discouraged, because of social concerns about modesty, girls' sports were organized through schools and overseen by the Ministry of Education. National women's teams in table tennis and volleyball trained at sports clubs which had male and female members.

Nasr's career was influenced by her mother's desire for her success. She credits Salih Sayyid Ahmad, the national team coach, and Fizan Hanbala, an Indian national and an al-Mina' club member, with directing her career. She, like many others, was also influenced by Muhammad Abdullah Far', a journalist nicknamed "father of athletes."

Nasr was the most widely recognized and successful of the PDRY's small corps of women athletes. Even though she was not a member of the party, she was emblematic of official philosophy and the state touted her victories as signs of its success. Her career was heavily covered in the state media: she was frequently interviewed on television and radio and featured in magazines. Twice she was presented awards by PDRY president ali nasr muhammad. She was, and remains, widely known.

In the mid-1980s Nasr's performance waned. Following the political turmoil of 1986, the new government was critical of her for not living up to the national goals, and she decided to retire. A public ceremony was held for the occasion on 12 December 1987.


Name: Na'ila Nasr Hassan Abbas Nasr

Birth: 1959, Crater, Aden

Family: Single

Nationality: Yemeni

Education: B.S. in civil engineering, College of Technology, University of Aden, 1984


  • 1975–1986: Table tennis player, Yemen national women's teams
  • 1984–1990: Civil engineer, Ministry of Civil Aviation, PDRY
  • 1989–1990: Deputy director, PDRY Table Tennis Association
  • 1990–present: Civil engineer, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Meteorology, Republic of Yemen
  • 2000–present: Member, Yemen Olympic Committee
  • 2003: Coach, Yemen Women's National Table Tennis Team

In keeping with the socialist emphasis on physical and mental fitness, Nasr also excelled in school, finishing first in her classes from elementary through college. She is more proud of this accomplishment than of her table tennis prowess. She considers her efforts to make women aware of the importance of sport for health her most important contribution. Nasr also works to improve the social status of women.


Nasr views herself as more than an athlete, but this label best describes how the world thinks of her. The level of respect for her was evident when the Chinese women's table tennis team came to her retirement ceremony.


The two Yemens united in 1990 but waged a brief civil war in 1994. Owing to the declining importance of the socialist perspective in unified Yemen, Nasr's national legacy as an athlete is in doubt. However, her continued active role in sports administration and policy suggests she may still serve as a leader in the promotion of women's sports.


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Clarke, Gill, and Barbara Humberstone. Researching Women and Sport. Houndmills, U.K.: Macmillan Publishers, 1997.

Dahlgren, Susanne. "Contesting Realities: Morality, Propriety and the Public Sphere in Aden, Yemen." In Research Reports, no. 243. Helsinki: Helsinki University Printing House, 2004.

Fasting, Kari, and Kristin Walseth. "Islam's View of Physical Activity and Sport: Egyptian Women Interpreting Islam." International Review for the Sociology of Sport 8, no. 1 (2003): 45-60.

Hargreaves, Jennifer. Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity. London: Routledge, 2000.

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Scraton, Sheila, and Anne Flintoff. Gender and Sport: A Reader. London: Routledge, 2002.

                                          Thomas B. Stevenson