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Nike ad asks Arab women athletes: 'What will they say about you?'

By Alex Butler
Nike's "What will they say about you?" ad features women athletes from Saudi Arabia. Screenshot courtesy of <a class="tpstyle" href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9li2g3xSto" title="Nike Ad via YouTube">Nike Women/YouTube</a>
Nike's "What will they say about you?" ad features women athletes from Saudi Arabia. Screenshot courtesy of Nike Women/YouTube

Feb. 23 (UPI) -- What will they say about you?

That's the question Nike is asking female athletes in an ad released this week. The online commercial features various Arab women taking part in sports like boxing, fencing, ice skating, running, and parkour.

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The commercial begins with a woman wearing a hijab and running through her village. After peeking out of her door, she dashes out as stares of confusion shoot at her from men and women as she rushes through the dirt, unfazed.

"What will they say about you? Maybe they'll say you exceeded all expectations," a voice narrates in Arabic.

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"That you shouldn't be here. That this is not for you. That this is not your sport. Or maybe, they will say that you are strong. That no one can stop you. That you will find your way. That you are their equal. That you amaze them. Or maybe, they will say that you will become something great."

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The ad then cuts to boxing women and girls showing off great athletic ability. One taped-fist fighter sinks in a swimming pool with her eyes closed in a meditative state.

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The ad has been viewed more than 4 million times on various multimedia platforms.

Nike talked to female athletes in the Middle East who weren't in the video to learn about their connections to athletics, ArabNews.com reported. The athletes in the video are from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

The women featured are: parkour trainer Amal Murad, from the UAE; ice skater Zahra Lari, from the UAE; singer Balquees Fathi, from UAE/Saudi Arabia; fencer Ines Boubakri from Tunisia; and Jordanian boxer Arifa Bseiso. Saudi social researcher, artis, and actress Fatima Al-Banawi narrates.

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"'What will they say about you?' This phrase, it's every little girl's nightmare growing up," Murad told Nike. "We hear this every time we do something that might be met with criticism. There's a fear to stand out and do something that's not part of the norm. But I've learned that, if you genuinely want to do something amazing, you can't be afraid of hearing this phrase. Don't be afraid of your own greatness."

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According to a Nike release, Zahra's father was hesitant to allow her to start competing seriously, while Arifa didn't have an athletic role model to inspire her as she was growing up. Ines has three gold medals, despite critics' misunderstanding of her early commitment to the sport. Murad's parents also didn't understand her passion early on.

Although most of the comments seem to be positive, there are still negative reactions to the 1:21 spot. Some commenters question Nike's business interests, prejudice in the region, and the price of the company's clothing. Others questioned why the company hasn't made "modest athletic workout gear."

"It's great ad no doubt; love the message. But kinda hypocritical for Nike to have us in ads but have yet to make hijabs and modest athletic workout gear for us. R we just props in your ads," Rahaf Khatib asked on Facebook.

Khatib, known as the "Hijabi Runner," was recently featured in an article in Women's Running. The six-time marathoner strives to inspire women who cover to stay active.

"I looooove this ad!! Awesome ... next time include black Arab women, Sudanese maybe! Like me, maybe," Islam Mirghani Ahmad wrote on Facebook.

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One user tweeted that Nike's ad was "anti-hijab."

"These strong women are helping to create positive change through sport and fitness, and they all hope that sharing their stories will inspire others, and turn the phrase 'What will they say about you?' into a positive question with powerful answers," Nike said in the release.

The original YouTube posting had been viewed more than 2 million times Thursday afternoon.

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