UAE champions ‘determination’ tag for Special Olympians
UAE champions ‘determination’ tag for Special Olympians
Arab athletes used to being called “special needs” were surprised and excited this week to see welcome signs with the new label at the 9th Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Regional Games in Abu Dhabi.
The term, seen everywhere from handicapped accessible boardwalks to the Abu Dhabi exhibition center, is one the UAE hopes will catch on beyond its borders.
Matar Saeed Al-Naimi, president of the health committee for the 2018 MENA competition, says the games also offer a venue to educate local society.
Groups of Emirati elementary school age children were a fixture at the MENA games, brought in with their teachers to attend various sports events.
“They are still young and they are the future, so it is very important for the UAE to teach this generation who are the ‘people of determination’ and what they are capable of doing,” Naimi told AFP.
“The goal is a united society,” he said.
On Tuesday, the final day of competitions, a basketball match between Iraq and Syria ended with tears, cheers and finally a group photograph.
“I’m happy, very happy. I don’t know how to describe it,” said Naim Asmar, a member of the victorious Syrian basketball team.
Asked whether he preferred they be labelled as special needs or as people of determination, the athlete responded unequivocally.
“People of determination,” he said over and over.
“It means we have willpower! We might even have more than regular people,” he said pointedly.
The team coach, Yasser Al-Yassine, was also thrilled.
“This term is like a push for them — they understand what it means. It’s very motivating. It says, ‘I am a person of determination, so let’s go! I will do, I will train, I will play. If I can’t play, I’ll at least participate.
“It’s a wonderful concept,” said Yassine, whose team was participating in an international competition for the first time in six years.
Syria’s team coach said his players — three from Damascus, three from Aleppo and two from Homs — face challenges in society even as the country’s war has wound down in their own cities.
The confidence they gain at regional competitions and local games is hard won — and easily lost.
“There’s society, the school, the neighborhood — the streets. So maybe I have them once, twice or three times a week for an hour and a half. All the confidence we built in an hour and a half can be destroyed in five minutes,” said Yassine.
“They need to have each other’s backs.”
While the men’s teams from Syria and Iraq shook hands, women’s teams from Pakistan and Algeria faced off on the opposite court.
Kamilia Nihad Metidji, a 26-year-old volunteer with the Algerian team, said the “people of determination” label had surprised her.
“I was very happy that they call them this because I find that — with this word — there is no difference between us and them; between the healthy and the handicap-,” she said, stopping short to correct the terminology:
“The people of determination,” she continued. “It gives them self-worth; it’s super. It means they don’t have to feel different.”
Metidji said she volunteered with the special needs athletes because she wanted them to “feel like there’s no difference between us.”
“I want to give them courage: to show them they can accomplish something; they can win games, they can win medals — they can do everything we do.”
Aussie ace Matt Jurman says Slaven Bilic will get Al-Ittihad ‘back where they belong’
- Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club
- A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table
KUWAIT CITY: Al-Ittihad defender Matt Jurman has backed Slaven Bilic to turn things around for the club, predicting his new coach can inject some much-needed confidence into the team.
A disastrous start to the season has left Al-Ittihad rock bottom of the Saudi Pro League table with one draw and four losses from their opening five games.
Ramon Diaz was sacked as coach after just two matches, with Bilic (below) parachuted in three weeks ago to replace the Argentine.
The first game of his reign ended in defeat away to Al-Fateh and on Friday they drew 1-1 at home with Ohod, but Australian Jurman, who moved to Al-Ittihad from Suwon Bluewings in the summer, believes it is only a matter of time before Bilic transforms the club’s fortunes.
“It’s not a situation I’ve seen before, a coach being sacked after only two games,” Jurman told Arab News. “It shows that it is cut-throat here but the players and coaches have to respond positively to that pressure.
“A club the size of Al-Ittihad has to be winning games and I think that Bilic and his coaching staff will take us in the right direction. It’s mentally tough when you keep losing, but we have great players in the team and we know we should be higher than where we are.
“We just need more belief and I certainly feel the new coach will give us that. Then I’m sure we’ll shoot up the table.”
On a personal level, Jurman now has the opportunity to work with a coach who enjoyed a distinguished career playing in his position. An uncompromising center-back, Bilic reached the World Cup semifinals with Croatia in 1998 and also played in the Premier League with Everton and West Ham.
“He’s right up there with the best coaches in the league and of course was a great player,” Jurman said. “Obviously he played in my position so I’m excited to learn from him and I’m sure he can help make me a better player.
“It’s been a difficult start to the season but now we can look forward and I’m sure that the new coach and his staff are going to get us back on track.”
Jurman made a bold career move by deciding to swap Suwon Bluewings for Al-Ittihad in July after a successful 18-month stint in South Korea.
But despite the tough introduction to life in Saudi football, the Australia international insisted he has no regrets.
“It’s been a big change coming to Saudi Arabia. Training at night, the temperatures we’re playing in every week — these things take time to get used to. But it’s a great opportunity to experience a culture I’ve never seen before.
“It would have been easy to stay in Korea but when you get a call saying one of the biggest clubs in the Middle East are interested in you, it’s a no-brainer. I was told about the Pro League expansion, how they wanted more foreigners on each team.
“I knew I was going to play against quality players, quality strikers — I wanted to come and test myself.”
As well as enjoying the challenge on the pitch, Jurman has been particularly impressed by the fans off it, playing in front of some huge crowds at King Abdullah Sports City.
“Al-Ittihad is such a big club and even at our away games, our fans usually outnumber the home team. Seeing that type of support is fantastic. The fans are crazy, the best supporters I’ve seen.
“It seems you can’t go anywhere in Jeddah without finding an Al-Ittihad fan and that’s been eye-opening, to see just how much they love football in Saudi Arabia.”
Jurman was not the only Australian to arrive in Saudi Arabia this summer, with Socceroos goalkeeper Brad Jones moving to Al-Nassr from Feyenoord.
And after fellow Aussie Mark Milligan’s summer departure from Al-Ahli, Jurman has been grateful to have another compatriot to speak to.
“I chatted to Mark after our last game in Russia at the World Cup and he helped me make up my mind to move here. He was living in Jeddah too so it was a real shame that he left soon after. The new coach came in there and that’s how it works sometimes in football.
“Now Brad is here too and that’s been great. We’re always chatting on WhatsApp, talking about life and how we’re settling in. It’s always good to have that kind of support.
“Unfortunately for me, Brad’s team is flying at the moment. But I’m sure that before long we’ll turn things round at Al-Ittihad and then we can both be up there.”