Zahra Lari: The Real Life Ice Princess from UAE

“I wish for all young women to find their passion. To be concerned for their health and well being. To take up sport. To not let small obstacles look like mountains. To strive for their own betterment and to not see the differences in people but to only see the likenesses. This is my wish for all.”

– Zahra Lari

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Zahra Lari is the UAE’s ice princess. While, it initially sounds strange for a desert-dominated country to have an icey icon, Lari is more than deserving of the title, as the first Emirati to compete in figure skating internationally. She is also the first figure skater to compete while wearing a hijab, which she wears in observance of her Muslim faith.

Participation in winter sports is hardly commonplace in the desert. But Lari was inspired to try figure skating after watching the Disney film, Ice Princess when she was 12. She began classes and in time her after-school hobby turned into a full-scale sporting passion. While her mother was supportive from the beginning, it took a while for her father to be completely supportive of the commitment Lari was making to figure skating. After seeing her obvious passion for the sport, he now cheers for her just as loudly as all her fans. 

“At the beginning, people didn’t know anything about skating and they had the wrong idea, they thought it was not part of our culture. But when my father saw that it didn’t go against our traditions and that I was serious, I finally got to compete.

There’s a reason why girls don’t get into sport here – it’s a cultural thing. “You get married, you cook, you stay at home and raise your children. These days, girls want more. They don’t want to stay at home, they want to get out there, get an education and do something they love.

It makes me proud to be part of making the road easier for the next generation. I struggled to make this happen, but it was worth it for them.“It’s really important for me to show that the hijab doesn’t restrict what I want to do.”

At 21-years-old, nearly ten years on from her first skating lesson, Lari is competing internationally. Lari overcame cultural perceptions of her sport in order to compete, and while competing, Lari also overcame perceptions of her culture in the sporting community. When Lari made her junior international debut at the European Cup in Canazei, Italy, points were deducted from her final score because she wore a headscarf (which was against the rules). After pursuing the matter, the International Skating Union changed the rules to allow headscarfs to be worn by competitors. Lari’s costumes cover all her skin, creating another point of difference. After all, a conservative costume is  not a trademark look for figure skaters. While it is an uncommon look for ice skaters, it is a manifestation of Lari’s faith and how she observes it while competing, giving it a distinct beauty.

Lari trains four to seven an hours a day and balances her training schedule against her studies as an environment health and safety student at Abu Dhabi University University.

Lari dreams of becoming the first Emirati to compete in the Winter Olympics and hopes to qualify for the 2018 games. If she does not qualify, Lari does not see herself giving up her sport. Her desire first and foremost is to be a role model for other Muslim girls who want to participate in sport, particularly figure skating in the desert.

Here’s wishing Zahra the best of luck as she continues to smash stereotypes and hit the ice!

Extra for experts:


Zahra is featured in a Nike promotion featuring Arab sportswomen

Zahra Lari 2016 UAE National Champion



Rory Coen, Zahra Lari: The UAE’s own Ice Princess, Sport 360, 27 June 2013

Simone Egarter, Nike commercial celebrates Arab female athletes ‘to inspire others’, CNN, 21 February 2017

Melinda Healy, My UAE: Ice skater Zahra Lari hopes to take her blades to glory, The National, 28 July 2016

Camille Hogg, Meet Zahra Lari, the UAE’s figure skating superstar, Abu Dhabi World, 1 July 2016

Hiba Khan, Meet UAE’s international female figure skater, Sport 360, 6 March 2017 (also features a video interview)

Carol Kuruvilla, This Muslim Figure Skater Is Determined To Make History At The Olympics, The Huffington Post, 11 April 2016


Zahra on Instagram

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