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.

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