Middle East athletes compete at Invictus Games

The Invictus Games were created in 2014 by Prince Harry, Duke of Sussex, who was inspired after he attended a similar event for wounded veterans in the United States a year earlier. (AFP)
Updated 24 October 2018

Middle East athletes compete at Invictus Games

  • Injured in the line of duty, 23 competitors from Jordan and Iraq are showing their strength this week in Sydney
  • Jordan begins week by picking up a gold medal in women’s one-minute sprint indoor-rowing competition

DUBAI: They are some of the Middle East’s bravest war veterans and, having suffered injury in the line of duty, they are showing their strength and resilience in a different arena: sport, at the fourth Invictus Games this week in Sydney.

Among more than 500 athletes participating in the international adaptive multi-sport event created by the UK’s Prince Harry for wounded, sick and injured service personnel, there are 23 competitors from two Middle Eastern countries: 17 from Jordan and seven from Iraq.

As the competition heats up, Jordanian participants have already topped the league table in some events. On Monday, Amany Akram Khaled Abdel Rahman, 29, won gold in the women’s IR2 one-minute sprint indoor-rowing competition, and second place was awarded to fellow Jordanian competitor, 32-year-old Ulfat Yaseen Ahmad Al-Zwiri. 

Also during Day 3, Amjed Nashat Ali Ayasrah and Jafar Al-Maradat of Jordan competed in the sitting volleyball match against Afghanistan, which it won before losing to the UK.

After having his right leg amputated following an accident on a tour of duty with the Jordan Armed Forces, Al-Maradat found a love of sport again, which helped his health – physically and mentally.

“Playing sports following my injury changed my whole outlook on life,” said the retired serviceman, who competed for the first time. “It has helped me build new friendships and meet other disabled soldiers.”

Al-Maradat hails from the southern city of Karak and commutes for three hours to train with fellow colleagues who are now part of his close inner circle of support. He credits embracing sports and the immense training and preparation for the Games as an integral part of his recovery and building a life after the army, where he served between 1993 and 2014.

“Playing sports has helped in the transformation of my daily routine and has given me a push forward,” he said. 

Ayasrah, from Jerash in northern Jordan, has been an active sergeant in the Gendarmerie Forces since 2009 and had an amputated leg as a result of a gunshot wound. 

He was competing for the second time in sitting volleyball. “Although I am still working, playing sports and representing my country at the Invictus Games made a big change in my life,” he said. “Sports was never in my daily routine, but my previous participation was a great experience.”

Since losing the sight in his left eye after being exposed to chemicals while on duty, fellow Jordanian competitor and former soldier Jehad Bani Omar admitted he found it “hard to cope” at first when his injury led to his retirement from the Jordan Armed Forces.

After a long road to recovery, Omar said he “eventually accepted” his fate and turned his life around after embracing physical activity.

“Sports have revived my self-confidence and renewed my energy levels,” said the retired soldier, who will be competing in athletics (shot put) and defending the gold medal he won in the Games in Orlando in 2016. “I am excited about the Invictus Games and have been preparing for them persistently,” he said. “I appreciate the international event – it shows concern for wounded soldiers.”

Jordanian competitor Nayef Al-Zboon comes from the Mafraq governorate. The landmine survivor, who had his leg amputated, competed for the second time in sitting volleyball and said he always looks forward to training, even on holiday.

“Sports has given me a challenge and something to look forward to,” said the retired serviceman, adding that he sees his participation as a unique opportunity to meet military personnel who share the same experiences.

Female competitor Ulfat Al-Zwiri, a civilian staffer in the Jordan Armed Forces since 2008, developed incomplete paraplegia after a car accident while on duty. “My injury inspired me to challenge myself and not to give up, and I see sports as a source of willpower and determination,” said Al-Zwiri, who is participating in the (100m) wheelchair race and in rowing. “Participating gives me the drive to fulfil my full potential and is also a good opportunity for me to represent my country in the best way I can.” 

She prepared continuously to ensure that she would achieve advanced results and said her previous participation in the Games helped increase her confidence and to meet other military personnel with similar types of injuries from different countries and cultures. 

“I am hopeful that my previous experience in the Games will help me achieve good results in this year’s competition as well,” she said.

Amany Abdel Rahman, a civilian staffer in the Jordan Armed Forces since 2008, has paralysis in her lower body owing to an illness while on duty.

Of her injury, she said: “Life must go on.” She described overturning her life by embracing sport and is participating in the (100m) wheelchair race at the Invictus Games.

“I feel proud to be raising the Jordanian flag and am really looking forward to hearing the national anthem on an international platform,” she said. “I am highly motivated and driven to achieve outstanding results.”

Jamal Damra, a retired serviceman of the Jordan Armed Forces, was shot while on duty, and his right leg was amputated under the knee. “The injury does not mean the end of life as I can still do daily activities,” he said. “Sports gave me the chance to be more involved in my community to boost my own recovery, but also to promote positive social change.” 

Damra trains every day and participated in sitting volleyball and athletics (shot put). His team did well last year and won the gold medal in athletics, but he is “even better prepared this time” and is ready to excel again. He sees his participation as a “unique opportunity to meet military personnel from different countries.” 

Riyad Al-Mazaydeh comes from the southern desert region of Qatranah. He has served in the Jordan Armed Forces since 2005 and is an active sergeant at the Royal Medical Services after he was injured in an accident while on duty in the artillery division. His left leg is amputated above the knee, but that has not stopped him from pursuing a new challenge in athletics. 

“I am now fully fit and will compete in the discus, shot put and rowing,” he said. “Traveling to another country is a great opportunity that will enrich my experience and enable me to meet others who face the same challenges and try to overcome them.”

Their other teammates include Anwar Saidat from Wadi Mousa, in southern Jordan, who has a broken hip and impaired vision in one eye after an accident while on duty; Omar Al-Shboul, a retired first sergeant, who had his right leg amputated after a bomb exploded while he was on duty; Ahmad Al-Barahmeh, who served on the northern border with Syria when a gunshot resulted in a spinal cord injury in 2015, and is representing Jordan in three disciplines: the (100m) wheelchair race, rowing and weightlifting; and Iyad Mestareh, an active warrant officer in the Jordan Armed Forces since 2002 who suffered severe visual impairment after a chemical-infused injury and will now be competing in sitting volleyball, athletics (shot put, discus, long jump) as well as rowing, among other events. 

“Invictus Games Sydney 2018 provides a moment in time for servicemen and women from 18 nations around the world to come together and make lifelong friendships,” Patrick Kidd, the CEO of this year’s Games, told Arab News. “All competitors and their families and friends can expect the warmest of welcomes from the Australian public and visiting supporters throughout the week.”

Events are taking place in Sydney’s Olympic Park, at the same venues that hosted the 2000 Olympics. Prince Harry is visiting Australia for the duration of the Games alongside his new wife Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex. The couple, who have just announced they are expecting their first child, made their first public appearance together at last year’s InvictusGames in Toronto. They opened the Games last Saturday and will return for the closing ceremony on Oct. 27.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka in defiant mood ahead of return to Saudi International at KAEC

Updated 5 min 41 sec ago

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka in defiant mood ahead of return to Saudi International at KAEC

  • Saudi International is returning to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) next week
  • Second edition of the tournament, which is part of the European Tour

JEDDAH: The Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers is returning to King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) next week from Jan. 30 — Feb. 2.

World No. 1 Brooks Koepka shared his thoughts about his chances ahead of the European Tour event at Royal Greens & Country Club.

Q. You’re currently on the verge of breaking into the top 10 players to have spent longest at world #1. What does that mean to you and are records something you’re driven by?
Brooks Koepka: It’s great to be world number one, and I want to stay there but being number one is really a by-product of playing well, which is my first aim. There are lots of other world-class golfers playing well at the moment and this week is a good chance to win some valuable points to keep me at the top.

Q. Your often-discussed record in majors proves that you are a golfer who can play arguably his best golf under the greatest of pressures. Where do you think this coolness on the big stage comes from?
BK: I think it’s just because I am very competitive, and I love to win. No athlete plays a sport just to take part: everyone wants to win. That drives me to play my best golf when it really matters. I also work hard off the course so that I am as prepared as I can be when I get into the heat of competition.

Q. The Saudi International marks your second tournament back from injury (knee). How are you feeling heading into it?
BK: I’m feeling really good. It’s going to be my second tournament since October, so I am excited to get back on the course and compete against some of the world’s best players. It’s never a good thing being injured but I’ve come back from injury well before. In some ways it gives you a chance to recharge and start the new year fresh.

Q. Does an injury like the one you’ve experienced change your mindset when you return?
BK: I’m playing to win. Once I’m on the course, I forget everything else and just play golf. I didn’t play my best golf here last year so I’m ready for a strong finish in Saudi.

Q. How important is it for golf to be coming to Saudi Arabia and bringing the game into a new market?
BK: It’s great to see the game growing worldwide and having played in Saudi Arabia last year, I know the positive effect the tournament had on the country.

Q. What do you hope to learn from Saudi Arabia during your time competing and how excited are you about playing in the tournament?
BK: I am really looking forward to playing at Royal Greens again as I thought the layout was really impressive. I hope my experience playing in this event last year will allow me to contend for this year’s title.

Q. More young people in Saudi Arabia are watching sport or taking up sport. What would you say to encourage them to take up golf and what can they learn from the sport?
It’s great to see so many young people wanting to get into the game. If you enjoy watching it, you will certainly love playing it.

Q. What’s the ambition for 2020 after such strong seasons in 2018 and 2019?
Right now, I just want to get back playing. I’m looking forward to a strong season and being in contention in all of the tournaments I play in, which come September will put me in a strong position for the Ryder Cup. As far as I am concerned, the Saudi International is the most important tournament in front of me right now.

Q. Many people in Saudi Arabia will not have attended a golf championship. What can they expect, and what do fans get from watching the golf live and up close that is just impossible to experience through the TV?
I think coming to a golf event is the best way to watch the game. You are part of the event, you can see exactly what the players are going through at any point. You can also follow your favorite golfers around the course all day, which sometimes the TV doesn’t do depending on who you want to follow.