Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sports development should be for everybody

Obviously many blog posts during August would relate to the Olympics recently conducted in Beijing. While reading one posted by American Bedu, who is a regular blogger in Saudi Arabia, I remembered growing up there and the shattered dreams of a young child. But in order not to confuse you, let me give a little bit of background.

Growing up in Dhahran, Aramco whilst attending a Saudi private school (D.A.S- for those that will recognize it) had many benefits. It allowed me to learn Arabic and understand Islamic religion whilst at the same time advancing my Western education. Naturally, as a young child, I was full of energy (maybe my mother adding tons of sugar to our corn flakes had something to do with it) and would love to play all matter of organized sport outdoors. The main sports were soccer, basketball, volleyball, and tennis. I was actually pretty darn good at them and could have continued had the encouragement been there.

Well, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Education in coordination with the Ministry of Youth and Sports were in the planning stages of developing their male youth and providing them with the coaching and guidance to progress further in their favorite past-times. Thus, many sports clubs (Itifaq, Al Nahda, and Al Qadiysia in the Eastern province) would send out their coaches to find young Saudi talent and develop their game further. My issue with that is that I was approached by several of these coaches, but then they backed out when they found out my passport which was not Saudi. So, what happened? My Saudi friends and classmates signed up with these clubs. As a result of them getting exposure to various tournaments throughout Saudi Arabia in addition to regular coaching, they were able to develop further. I could not as I was limited to the tournaments held for the Aramco community which usually consisted of the same 5 people whom were at your level (mainly tennis here).

For instance, I won an 800-meter run and a track and field coach approached me stating my time was great. Remember that I was a young adolescent who had a low heart beat and could beat many others his age in running middle distances (for short sprints, there were faster people than I). I had a natural inclination on how to pace myself and this was without any formal training or development. It was raw talent that sadly wilted away and was not allowed to develop further.

That is not fair and shows a level of short-sighted thought on behalf of the authorities. Whilst it is understandable that they would like to develop their Saudi youth, they have to accept that the other youth living in the country should be treated the same. If we contrast that with the United States (my experience during college), it is the difference between day and night. Over there, all students have the ability to participate in collegiate level sports and it does not matter where they come from. The better they are, the more chances they have. Talent is the only criterion. In fact, my siblings had experiences whereas talented sports stars are given a chance to attend exclusive boarding schools during their high school years in order to utilize their talents in the desired sport.

Why cannot we Arabs be as open to this idea as the Americans? After all, their results and success speaks volumes, while the Arab track record leaves something to be desired.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Mountain out of a Mole-Hill

I headed to Al Reef Lebanese Bakery on Wasl Road to have two manakeesh at about 10pm during a weekday. As I sat down on one of the 4 tables in the place awaiting my meal to arrive, I happened to observe the following; a couple came in and ordered. They were getting ready to sit at the table next to me when the man went to wash his hands while the woman went to the refrigerator to get a bottle of water. At the same time, another person placed his jacket on the back rest of the chair and sat down with his friend. Thus, the table got taken and the woman (whose back was to the table) was surprised when she turned around and found her chosen place taken.

Well, she took another table, and when her husband came back, she started complaining about the indecency of the pair of men that took their table. She was upset and I overheard her stating the injustice in an irritable manner. Her husband tried to calm her down and told her not to create a scene while she stated that she did not care (although their heated discussion did not turn into a scene, but was kept at the respectable level).

So what does this mean? This small incident got me thinking about how understanding is crucial for all of humankind to get along and appreciate different perspectives. The lady ASSUMED that the two knew that she and her husband wanted to sit there, but they stole it from her. I saw what happened and did not tell the gentlemen that the lady was sitting there. The gentlemen were oblivious to what had happened and would probably have given up their seats if they were made aware of the situation.

As a result of our silence what happened? Well, from the lady’s perspective, these Iranian gentlemen were rude and as a result of their actions, all Iranians became guilty by association of having ill manners. I was guilty with myself because I could have prevented this situation from happening by pointing out to the first man who placed the jacket that the woman was planning to sit there, but alas, I did not. Why is that? Is it that I have become a city-slicker who is insensitive to the injustices, although simple, committed by others? Is it my natural shyness coming out quietly to reassert itself? Or is it antipathy that drove me? I had witnessed the whole thing and could have added a valid perspective to everything by either a) telling the men that the lady was planning to sit there, or b) by pointing out to the woman and her husband later on that the men were oblivious to what had happened (i.e. the table was empty and free for them). I did not!

How many times does something similar happen in real life were a simple misunderstanding escalates into deeper feelings of “I am right and you are wrong?” How many times do people bottle up their feelings and not try and seek reassurance or understanding? So next time, listen to others and do not make assumptions. Otherwise, it might manifest into something bigger than it really is.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Arabs Unite for the 2012 Olympics; a Solution

Well, the last week has been a week of many hours of watching TV and following the internet to see the results of the Olympics. This fortnight turns me into an armchair sports fanatic and it is quite amazing that I want to find out more about what the different competitions are and their rules and whether I should give it a go. It is also a time to catch the commentary and become a little more updated about sports that I do not follow.I flip the remote control between the 7 TV channels that are showing the Olympics. Whenever there is an Arab athlete competing, my attention is focused as I would like them to succeed and make us proud. Well, what is the outcome so far; after 8 days of competition, the Arabs can boast of a total of 3 medals (1 silver by Algeria, and 2 bronze by Algeria and Egypt). Hooray, we should all be proud! I hope that with the athletics, the Arab drought will finally end and we will have an Arab athlete win the gold medal.Many Arab sports commentators have been as frustrated with the draught as I am. They are blaming it on the National Olympic Committees and the lack of planning. Their main argument is that we (as Arabs) need to provide the full support for our athletes in order for them to fulfill their role and bring us the medals with the bragging rights that go with it. We should not be there just to participate for our national flags to fly within the Olympic Village and in the Parade of Nations. This got me thinking and I want to share a solution with you; have ALL of the 22 Arab countries contribute half of their budgets to a collective consolidated budget that will be used as a Regional Trial to choose the BEST ARAB ATHLETES and train them to bring us gold.There are several reasons for this; 1) the Arab common person is united in their support of Arabs in the Olympics as it reflects on all of us (where we are really united), 2) it allows the countries to still have their symbolic participation in the Olympics (with half their budget), and 3) it will derive the athletes of the poor excuse that I did not perform because I did not have the support, especially financial from my National Olympic Committee.After all, the Arab countries combined have the same population of the United States. And we never hear complaints from them that on there are too many Californians with their Olympic athletes and not a single Alaskan!So, will this be an ideal or can the League of Arab States seriously work on achieving it from 2009? As a corporate person, I would place 12 gold medals as our target for 2012 London Olympics!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

The Olympic Jihad being Led by Arab Women

Yesterday, I, along with about 25% of the world’s population, watched the Opening Ceremony of the Bejing Olympics. There was nothing unusual during the ceremony except for the irony that the Chinese alphabet allowed the Syrian contingent be followed by the United States delegation. From the athletes’ perspective, George W. Bush seemed to be cheering the Syrian athletes which probably astonished and amused them.

The other unusual thing from my perspective was the number of women who were selected and honored to be their own countries’ flag bearers. An interesting thing, which led me to have pen and paper and re-watch the Parade of National Athletes till late in the morning, was the number of women who were given the honor to carry their countries’ flags. It was 29% which is not bad at all. Well how did the Arab countries fare?!? We had 4 female flag-bearers (3 of them were veiled) and two of those were from the conservative Gulf Cooperation Council.

That is correct! Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and the Comoros Islands had a woman representative honored by her carrying her country’s flag. As the Arab countries number 22, that is 18% of Arab countries. Although this is symbolic, I cannot but help wonder whether why this story is not being told. Most of the European countries had male flag carriers (their female participation was exactly 20%). The best continent according to me was Africa which had 22 female flag bearers to 29 male bearers. The only thing I have heard about the Olympics by the Western press is the criticism that Saudi Arabia refuses to have any female athlete in its Olympic delegation. That is fair, but it also fair to point out the positives from the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Isn’t it ironic that ultra-conservative Iran also had a woman carry their ISLAMIC flag? Add to that list, the Muslim nation of Eriteria and we have an “Islamic Jihad” at the Olympics led by women. How will the Western mainstream media and liberal feminists handle it!
It has gotten me thinking about the Arab Olympic movement and the positive effect women have had upon it. I still remember Nawal Al Mutawkel’s (from Morocco) gold medal in Los Angeles ’84 Olympics in addition to Ghada Shuaa’s giving Syria its first ever Olympic medal. In fact, I was heartened to learn that the former has been recently elected to the International Olympic Committee’s Board recently. In fact (and I will have to check on that) but I would be willing to wager that the number of Arab medals between females and males is 40-60 and not something skewed like 10-90. Can the Western countries boast of a similarly based proportion within their Olympic records?

So, why do is this not a story to tell? We, Arabs and Muslims, have provided women with opportunities to shine and these women have done us proud. However, we have not utilized this information to counter other’s whose motives are more sinister and aim to paint us out as “woman-haters.” Please note that I am not stating that all of woman issues have been handled correctly in the Arab world. That is still an ideal and we need to improve our record on other woman’s issues, but we need to have an acknowledgment of our Olympic efforts in promoting Arab women first.

I wish all the Arab countries great success in the Olympics and may we get more medals than in previous Olympics. These wishes are specially placed to our female athletes. Make us proud and let the world take notice of your ethnicity and gender.