Tounsi: A fine combination of nature and nurture

 23 May 2016 - 16:14

Tounsi: A fine combination of nature and nurture


By Amal Adil 

Look at this woman. If you don’t know her, then your first impression could be — like anyone else, someone next door. Even the wildest of your dream won’t give you the clue to what she is all about or what she is up to.

And basketball will perhaps be the last thing that would strike your imagination. This 28-year-old is a fine combination of nature and nurture, which has over the years made her determined and passionate about basketball. Despite all odds. Nature because sport runs in Houweida Tounsi’s blood. And nurture because it all started — however circumstantial it might be — when she was just a few months old.
At 165cm, the Tunisian has refused to give up on her passion and her goal to become a player in Qatar women’s basketball team. She was born in a family of athletics and grew up amid sports — literally. Her father is a football coach and her mother a former basketball player and a sport teacher.  An engineer by profession and working with Aljazeera Network, Houweida is a player in Qatar women’s basketball team. 

When she was just a few months old, Houweida’s mother used to take her to basketball competitions in Tunisia she participated in. During half time, she would change the little girl’s diapers in the locker room. “I started playing basketball when I was eight,” Houweida reminisces. “My mother was the one who inspired me and taught me how to play the game. I fell in love with basketball.” To Houweida, basketball is the smartest collective sport. Unlike other games such as football and handball where players have only one role in the field, basketball players are defendants, attackers and shooters — at the same time. This all-rolled-into-one role teaches basketball players how to optimally manage and use their time and energy. They also learn how to be able to scan the court at all times.
And just like any other sport, basketball players have to be fit and able to go back and forth in the court. There is no limit to their endurance, which is always on test, as they cope with a difficult movement or situation, without giving way. When Houweida turned 12, her father wanted her to play football but her mother disagreed. She had already chalked out a path for the young girl. She argued that football is a very aggressive sport for girls and that society is still not very open to a girl becoming a footballer at the time. 
“Like they say, mothers know best basketball, was indeed more feminine. From that point forward, I continued playing basketball,” Houweida says.
In 2003, Houweida joined Qatar women’s basketball team soon after her family moved to this country. She was on the look out for a basketball league to join. Unfortunately, there were none for females at the time.
However, there was a team of seven players, set up in 2002 and Houweida became a member. Their first competition was in Iran, but the team lacked experience and lost.
Came another test. It was one of the hardest games a couple of years ago, in one of the training camps in Turkey. The team competed against the first team of the second league. “I remember at that time their level was much advanced compared to ours. We weren’t even able to see the ball, we lost by 50 point. Thank god, it was only a training camp,” a bemused Houweida recalls.
According to her, managing her time for her studies and basketball practice was less of a challenge in Qatar compared to Tunisia. In Qatar, schools hours are not longer and this allows students to utilise afternoons playing the sport of their linking or joining clubs and taking part in activities. A few years later, Houweida’s studies got on the way of her sport. 
She had to go back to Tunisia to complete the last year of high school because she was a math student. Though very passionate about basketball, Houweida says her education was extremely important. “I remember during high school, I used to do homework on the bus on my way home from basketball practice. I did that because I could afford to get a bad result, else my mother would stop me from playing basketball,” she says.
After graduating with an engineering degree from a Tunisian university at the end of 2012, Houweida returned to Qatar national basketball team and immediately took part in a competition in Bahrain. She and her team won.
Nevertheless, being a basketball player has not stopped her from closely following other sports like football and tennis. Houweida is a big fan of FC Barcelona and world tennis tournaments.
Last year, the team’s training camp was in Barcelona. After training, on their way back to Qatar, FC Barcelona players passed through the waiting area inside the airport to board their flight. They were coming to Qatar to shoot for an advertisement (publicity campaign) for Qatar Airways. 
“I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw them. I asked my friends if Neymar and Piqué were really flying with us in the plane!” Houweida expressed her surprise to see her favourite football players. “It was quite a hustle to get to meet them but was definitely worth it. I was over the moon when Piqué took a picture of all of us together.”


She has managed to get selfies with the biggest names in sports — Neymar — FC Barcelona; Pep Guardiola, coach of Bayern Munich / former player; Rafael Nadal — tennis player; Franck Ribéry – footballer; Lewandowski –footballer in Bayern Munich; Nasser Al Khelaifi, CEO and Chairman of beIN Media Group, among others. “I work hard to be able to take selfies with my favourite players. It costs me a fortune to buy VIP tickets, but, hey, it’s worth it. Sometimes it’s just luck, like that time in Barcelona,” Houweida says.
Asked about what happened in 2014 in South Koran when they were asked to withdraw from the Asian Games because some players are wearing scarves, Houweida said it was not the first time it happened. In 2013, they faced a similar situation in three on three in half court competition also known as “street basketball” in Doha.
“A representative of basketball’s world governing body, FIBA, saw some of us in veil in the morning on the day of the competition. He told the people responsible then that these players were not allowed. Luckily, Doha was the host and we were allowed to choose players from two teams. We picked unveiled players. “When we got the invitation to join the Asian competition, we asked before we flew... and we were assured that we would be playing. “One of the reasons given for why my teammate can’t play was that it was not safe for the player and the opponent. Such reasons aren’t practical. Handball and football players are allowed to wear scarves. Yet, both games are more aggressive in nature compared to basketball.”
Houweida hopes this rule will change and she and her team will be able to compete in more and more international tournaments.

The Peninsula