Sports academy in Egypt gives Syrian children hope

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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (R) watches as Adel Bazmawi (L) teaches martial arts to a youth at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Adel Bazmawi, the cofounder of the Syrian Sports Academy, teaches students at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (R) watches as Adel Bazmawi (L) teaches martial arts to youth at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Adel Bazmawi (R) and Amir al-Awad (C), the cofounders of the Syrian Sports Academy, teach students at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (R) watches as Adel Bazmawi (C) teaches martial arts to youth at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (R) watches as Adel Bazmawi (L) teaches martial arts to a youth at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (white), the cofounder of the Syrian Sports Academy, watches as students train at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Adel Bazmawi, 21, a co-founder and coach of the Syrian Sports Academy, teaches students at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
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Syrian refugee Amir al-Awad (white) and Adel Bazmawi, the founders of the Syrian Sports Academy, train at the academy in Egypt's second city of Alexandria on January 4, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 20 February 2018
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Sports academy in Egypt gives Syrian children hope

ALEXANDRIA: When Amir Al-Awad fled Syria for Egypt, he intended to cross the Mediterranean for a European country.
But instead, the boyhood Syrian wrestling champion opted against the risky sea journey and found work at a restaurant in Alexandria, where he was introduced to the city’s Syrian community.
Together they established the Syrian Sports Academy, and he replaced his dream of an Olympic medal with a goal to “create champions from the young refugees” from his country, says Awad.
This was “so that one day they will be able to raise their flag as we have in the past after they return to Syria,” says the 34-year-old.
The academy is squeezed into just 30 square meters (320 square feet), in a modestly equipped hall at the bottom of a residential building in the Alexandria neighborhood of Khaled bin Al-Waleed.
Inside, Syrian children aged of seven to 10 dressed in T-shirts and jeans form a line after arriving at the end of a school day.
“Let’s go, guys, so you have enough time to study,” Awad yells in encouragement, as he moves on to coaching them wrestling.
With a small administrative office, and the lone training hall, Syrian youngsters practice martial arts, aerobics, ballet, and gymnastics.
In addition, the academy organizes football tournaments, especially for Arab and African refugees in the city.
On its aging walls hang pictures of international martial arts and weightlifting champions.
The academy’s founders began the project in 2016 with just 3,000 Egyptian pounds (about $430 at the time).
The financing came from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which provided 25 percent used to buy equipment, and the rest from the Caritas humanitarian group.
“We prepared the training hall step by step, including paint and design,” says Awad.
The academy’s growing reputation in the neighborhood drove Egyptian parents to also enrol their children there.
“We’re keen to teach the children sports ethics: to learn how to win and how to lose, which helps them in their life, instead of giving in to a bad lifestyle,” he says.
Karima Amer, an Egyptian mother from Khaled bin Al-Waleed neighborhood, cited “discipline” as the reason she takes her son and daughter to the academy.
She praised “Captain Amir” and how he “talks with the children about everything: their problems, food, and ethics.”
Adel Bazmawi, 21, a co-founder and coach, says he transitioned from a professional wrestling to coaching martial arts after coming to Egypt from Idlib in 2013.
“In Egypt I’m not recognized as a wrestler who can participate in international competitions” given he does not carry the Egyptian nationality, says Bazmawi, who was Syria’s freestyle wrestling champion for his age in 2006 and 2008.
Now “the most I can do is to fight in local clubs,” he says.
On the other hand, in addition to Alexandria, he says he has become known in other cities, including the Nile Delta provincial capitals of Tanta and Kafr el-Sheikh.
Still, he says “I miss international competitions.”
Even after receiving invitations to tournaments in Canada and Germany in 2015, he was unable to go because “Syrian nationality has become an obstacle to obtaining visas to European countries.”
There are more than 126,000 UN-registered Syrian refugees in Egypt, but the real figure is thought to be much higher.
Bazmawi, who did not complete his studies in sports education because of the devastating seven-year war in his homeland, helps his family to prepare Syrian shawarma at a restaurant close to the academy.
Those who train the youths go unpaid, something that is unavoidable given that 75 percent of the children are exempt from fees.
“The academy’s goal is to be developmental, and not to make a profit,” says Awad.
But older youths pay a “token” fee, up to 100 pounds a month, which the academy uses to pay electricity bills and rent, he says.
As busy as they are, Awad says his team “aren’t able to compete in various tournaments because of their Syrian nationality,” while to participate they need to officially register the academy.
On several occasions, they even had to cancel some activities on police orders, and they lack the licenses for gatherings, he says.
But for Karim Jalal Al-Deen, 10, the academy is a place to nurture his dream of going back to Syria one day after perfecting kickboxing.
“I want to go back to Syria as a champion, and beat Captain Adel, and I might even be a kickboxing coach myself.”


Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bert Van Marwijk only has one thing on his mind: getting the UAE to the 2022 World Cup

  • Former Saudi Arabia coach wants to guide the Whites to their first World Cup since 1990.
  • "If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here," Dutchman says of his new job.

LONDON: Bert van Marwijk has told the UAE he only has one thing on his mind: Getting the side to the 2022 World Cup. 

The former Saudi Arabia boss was unveiled as the new coach of the Whites before watching his new team beat his former team 2-1 in a friendly in Dubai (see right). While he was in the stand rather than the dugout — interim boss Saleem Abdelrahman took charge — he would have liked what he saw as he set himself the challenge of leading the UAE to their first showpiece since 1990. 

“I’m here for only one thing, and that’s to qualify for the World Cup,” the Dutchman said.  

“It takes a long time and the first thing we have to deal with is the first qualification round. That’s why I’m here.”

Van Marwijk was celebrated after he led the Green Falcons to last year's World Cup before calling it quits. (AFP) 

Van Marwijk guided Saudi Arabia to last year’s World Cup — the Green Falcons’ first appearance at the showpiece for 12 years — during a two-year stint which ended in September 2017.

That was one of the key reasons the UAE fought hard for the 66-year-old and while it is never easy getting through Asian qualifying — 46 teams going for just four direct slots at Qatar 2022 — the Dutchman claimed his experience, combined with his knowledge of the UAE, will stand him in good stead. 

“The Saudis and the UAE are about the same level. With the Saudis we qualified for Russia, so we will do really everything to go to Qatar in 2022,” Van Marwijk said. 

While he is fondly remembered in the Kingdom — only a contractual dispute regarding backroom staff meant he did not stay on as Green Falcons coach for the Russia tournament — it is his time as the Netherlands coach that really stands out on his managerial resume. Van Marwijk coached the Oranje to within minutes of the World Cup trophy, with only an Andres Iniesta extra-time winner preventing him from tasting ultimate glory against Spain in 2010. 

So why did he return to the Gulf for another crack at World Cup qualification in a tough, crowded race? 

“One of the reasons is the feeling. I have to have the right feeling when I sign a contract,” Van Marwijk said. “We analyzed the UAE, we played four times against each other with Saudi, so I can see the potential.

“I have had the experience to go to the World Cup twice. The first time we were second in the world, the second time was with Australia (which he coached last summer) and we were a little bit unlucky — we played very well. 

“So to go to the World Cup for the third time is the goal.”

Van Marwijk is all too aware his task will be difficult. The “Golden Generation” of Emirati footballers, spearheaded by Omar Abdulrahman, tried and failed to make it to football’s biggest tournament, and a lot of the next three years’ work will likely depend on a new generation.

“I heard there were some young talents, so I’m anxious to know how good they are,” the Dutchman said. “I know the team has a few very good players — the UAE has a few weapons. 

“That’s the most important thing. If I didn’t see the potential, I wouldn’t sit here.”