FIFA ban had ‘huge effect’ on Kuwait

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The Kuwait team are now free to resume competitive international football after their suspension was lifted. (Shutterstock)
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Talal Al-Fadhel
Updated 09 December 2017
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FIFA ban had ‘huge effect’ on Kuwait

LONDON: Finally, after 782 long days Kuwait are back after FIFA lifted its suspension, but the two-year hiatus has killed off a generation of talent according to national team defender Talal Al-Fadhel.
Kuwait were plunged into footballing exile for 24 months after its government was accused of interfering in how the soccer federation was being run. FIFA says the “Kuwait Parliament has adopted a new sports law” which now complies with its statutes and leaves them free to resume competition, but Al-Fadhel feels some lasting damage has been done.
“I feel despair,” the 27-year-old told Arab News in an exclusive interview. “It’s had a huge effect both at home and abroad. Domestically the Kuwaiti players have no real ambition at present. Internationally, our ranking has plummeted, our national team doesn’t play and our clubs don’t take part in international competitions. I didn’t expect the suspension to last this long, it has finished off a generation completely.”
Kuwait once ruled Asian football, winning the Asian Cup on home soil in 1980, qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Games and the 1982 World Cup, their only appearance at either tournament, and winning seven of the 10 Gulf Cup titles between 1970 and 1990.
Those sides featured players who are still revered to this day, the likes of lethal strike duo Jasem Yaqoub and Faisal Al-Dakhil, industrious midfielder Fathi Kameel and captain Saad Al-Houti.
But those glory days must seem like a lifetime ago for the long-suffering fans of Al-Azraq, as Kuwaiti football falls further and further behind their Gulf rivals, with players and clubs devoid of any international football for more than two years, and their FIFA ranking dropping to an embarrassing all-time low of 186.
Al-Fadhel was a member of Kuwait’s 23-man squad for the 2015 AFC Asian Cup in Australia at the age 24, but was an unused substitute in all three games before Kuwait’s elimination in the group stage. Despite his lack of actual game time for the national team since his debut in 2013, as he was entering the peak of his career, he was hoping to force his way into Nabil Maâloul’s side.
“Of course, every player has that desire (to play more regularly),” he said. “And I was expecting the same.”
Three years on, now aged 27, he has lost three years of his career that he can never get back.
Prior to their suspension, Kuwait had started their joint qualification for the 2018 World Cup and 2019 AFC Asian Cup in fine form, losing only one of their first five matches, a narrow 1-0 loss to South Korea, and were in a good position to progress to the final round of qualifying for the first time since qualification for the 2006 World Cup.
Progression to the final round would also have guaranteed qualification for the 2019 AFC Asian Cup in the UAE. That dream is now gone. Kuwait will have to watch on in January 2019 as all their fellow Gulf neighbors chase continental glory.
“I felt disappointed,” Al-Fadhel said of their expulsion from qualifying. “Especially as we were very close to qualifying for the second round, (which) the national team hadn’t achieved in a while.”
That is a feeling shared by one of Kuwait’s former superstars, the captain of their 1980 AFC Asian Cup winning team, Saad Al-Houti. “Naturally we are disappointed not to participate in World Cup qualifiers and the Asian Cup,” Al-Houti, who also captained the team at the 1982 World Cup, exclusively told Arab News.
“There will be a lot of disappointment for Kuwait fans, not just in Kuwait but also Arabs who love our national team which creates a glorious name for itself in many competitions.”
Al-Houti is now a member of the Kuwait Football Association executive committee, and last year had the chance to speak directly with new FIFA president Gianni Infantino about the ban, leading a delegation of Kuwaiti officials to the FIFA Congress in Mexico City last May to plead for the ban to be lifted.
“This is very hard to accept,” Al-Houti said at the time. “We just want to show we are separate from the government and we want to return things as they were before because this is doing us very great harm.”
Recalling his meeting with Infantino, Al-Houti remains disappointed by the FIFA president’s actions in the Mexican capital.
“When I saw the FIFA president in Mexico, I went and said hello and courageously told him that we came to have the ban lifted and that we need our youth to raise the Kuwaiti flag in international sports events,” Al-Houti explained.
“He literally told me that he will have a speech explaining the situation and that he will be neutral, but I was surprised by his speech that he supported the ban.”
After the election earlier this month of a new head of the Kuwait Football Association, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Yusef Al-Sabah, there was renewed hope that an end to the saga may be in sight, with Sheikh Ahmad saying he had “many goals, first and foremost lifting the suspension.”
On Sunday, Kuwait’s Parliament approved a draft law aimed at ending the bans by FIFA and the International Olympic Committee, and on Tuesday Infantino arrived in the country to officially announce the suspension had been lifted. Al-Fadhel, who signed for Omani side Saham Club in September, is hoping it does not come too late for him to continue his international areer.
“God willing, I hope I can play for the national team after the end of the suspension as I am only 27 years old.”


Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

Updated 21 July 2019
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Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

  • Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall
  • Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics under the refugee flag

GWANGJU, South Korea: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.
Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1min 8.79sec in the 100 meters butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Thirty minutes into that treacherous journey, the motor on their dinghy cut out and the tiny vessel, carrying 20 people rather than the six or seven it was designed for, threatened to capsize.
As the only people who could swim, Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped into the water to push and pull the stricken dinghy for over three hours until they finally reached the shore.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the United Nations general assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“We were scared the whole time.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”