In face of COVID, Arabs rally social media at Tokyo Olympics

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Updated 14 August 2021

In face of COVID, Arabs rally social media at Tokyo Olympics

In face of COVID, Arabs rally social media at Tokyo Olympics

Despite the delays and restrictions of COVID-19, and even conflict and turmoil in some countries, the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics succeeded in bringing Arabs together to cheer on their athletes.

A total of 18 Arab countries sent athletes to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, which were delayed until August 2021 because of the pandemic. Despite the absence of the usual live audiences to cheer them on, athletes found comfort in the support they received from fans and national leaders through social media, said Arab News sports editor, Ali Mohamed Khaled.

Khaled reported that the competing countries won a total of 18 medals: 5 gold, 5 silver and 8 bronze. Among the winners were Arab women, who represented 14 of the 18 nations as flagbearers along with their male counterparts.

“It was very significant. One of the things that helped showcase how we have moved forward in this kind of thing, the Olympic Committee for the first time allowed at the opening ceremony two flagbearers, one male and one female,” Khaled said.

“In the past there was always an issue on who would take it (the flag). And this time, they were able to nominate and most of them had a female flagbearer that gave them visibility for the rest of the world. It is probably the most number of female athletes from Arab countries that we’ve had. Saudi Arabia had two (women).”

The Arab countries competing in the Olympics, according to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Committee, were Algeria (44 athletes), Bahrain (32), Egypt (133), Iraq (4), Jordan (14), Lebanon (8), Libya (4), Morocco (50), Oman (4), Palestine (5), Qatar (16), Saudi Arabia (29), Somalia (2), South Sudan (2)/Sudan (5), Syria (6), Tunisia (63), UAE (5), Yemen (5).

The modern Olympics have taken place since 1896 in Athens, Greece, and the first Arab country to compete was Egypt in 1912 at Stockholm. The first Arab female athlete to compete was Moroccan runner Nawal El Moutawakel, who won the gold medal in the women’s 400 meters hurdles race at the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics.

Arab women flagbearers in the Japanese capital during the opening ceremony included Saudi track sprinter Yasmine Al-Dabbagh, Lebanese shooter Ray Bassil, Egyptian two-time taekwondo Olympic medalist Hedaya Malak, Tunisian fencer Ines Boubakri, Moroccan boxer Oumaima Bel Habib, Jordan’s Asian Games taekwondo champion Julyana Al-Sadeq, Qatari rower Tala Abujbara, 15-year-old Bahraini swimmer Noor Yusuf Abdulla, Algerian swimmer Amel Melih, 12-year-old table tennis player Hend Zaza of Syria, Sudanese rower Esraa Khogali, Yemeni shooter Yasameen Al-Raimi, 17-year-old Kuwaiti swimmer Lara Dashti, 17-year-old Palestinian swimmer Dania Nour, and Iraqi shooter Fatimah Al-Kaabi.

And despite conflict and a one-year delay in the Olympic games, athletes came from 206 nations — including from Arab countries, Muslim countries and the Middle East region — to compete, with audiences banned from attending and Olympians restricted to minimal contact outside of the actual game competitions.


“The disruption of COVID, it worked two ways. First of all, the major disruptions like everyone was expecting to compete last year. And to postpone by a year it does really, really damage athletes’ programs,” Khaled said.

“Although in some cases some athletes who weren’t going last year ended up getting the chance this year so that was a positive for them. But it really did disrupt. Instead of the four-year cycle, which athletes train to religiously, it ended up being a five-year cycle. That was one aspect.”

But this is where social media stepped in, Khaled said during an appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show on Wednesday Aug. 11, 2021, broadcast on the US Arab Radio Network in Detroit and Washington DC.


“Not having the fans, not having the noise and inspiration, that impacted the athletes for sure. It is less encouragement and also it affected how we viewed it on television,” Khaled said.

“It was really interesting that a lot of the passion and the excitement was transferred to social media. A lot of people were posting their views and congratulations, like world leaders, like the Egyptian president who congratulated on Twitter, he congratulated his athletes. In Saudi, people were congratulating Tareg Hamedi. So there was a lot of excitement on social media because people were posting videos of themselves and their families celebrating because in the stadium there was none of that.”

Saudi Arabia sent its biggest contingent to date to compete in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.

“Saudi Arabia had the largest-ever delegation of 33 athletes. It was 11 individuals, and 22 from the squad that played in the football tournaments,” Khaled said.

“. . . It’s actually nine different sports for Saudis, which is a record. The previous record was six in Athens in 2004. So in every sense I think Saudi Arabia has expanded and backed a lot of its athletes. And you could see that also across like with lots of other Arab countries in a really difficult time when it is not easy to actually train and fund programs. There were quite a few medals in the end as well.”

Tareg Ali Hamedi won a silver medal in the men’s karate, beating more veteran opponents, Khaled said.

Khaled said there were three moments that excited him and fans throughout the Arab world.

“I would go for three who were really inspirational. I have already mentioned them. Ahmed Hafnaoui, the Tunisian 18-year-old swimmer. I think he was quite inspirational and absolutely an incredible performance to win gold. But also like inspired, and raised the spirits in his own words, he raised the spirits of a country that was going through a tough time, politically going through a tough time,” Khaled said.

“I think I mentioned Feryal Abdel Aziz, the Egyptian karate player who also won gold. I expect her legacy to be quite big in Egypt. I think a lot of people will follow her example. And I think in Saudi, the final one is Tareg Hamedi, Saudi’s only medal in the Olympics. He put on an unbelievable show, you know, and it was a shame that he lost in the circumstances that he lost through a penalty. But again it will inspire a whole new generation of kids to look at him and think, you know what, competing is incredible, and the Olympics a lot of the time is about competing, but it is also about if you win, the knock-on effect, the positivity that it sends back to the sporting industry in your country is huge.”

Overall, the negative impact of COVID restrictions and cynicism about the Olympics spending was overcome by the excitement of seeing Olympians from each country strive to achieve.

“I think sometimes people get cynical about the Olympics, you know about spending and all that. But then when you see the joy that these athletes get when they actually win, it is all worthwhile,” Khaled said.

“I would say one thing, competing, it is about competing, but more and more we would like to see Arabs also win, not just compete, we would like them to be better and win medals.”

The Ray Hanania Show is produced by Arab News at on the US Arab Radio Network on WNZK AM 690 in Greater Detroit and WDMV AM 700 in Greater Washington DC, and streamed live on

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
Updated 40 min 50 sec ago

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON

Tunisia stun favorites Nigeria to boost Arab hopes at AFCON
  • Unexpected 1-0 win over Super Eagles shows group stage will have little bearing on where trophy ends up
  • If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off

The African Cup of Nations has already seen Ghana out, defending champions Algeria finish bottom of their group and now Nigeria eliminated at a relatively early stage after a shock loss at the hands of a COVID-19-ridden Tunisia on Sunday.

That result really showed that the trophy could go anywhere, and as unimpressive as Egypt have been so far, coach Carlos Queiroz’s words after the group stage ended are looking increasingly accurate.

“Now the real work begins, and now the real competition will begin,” he said. It was the kind of thing that you would expect such an experienced campaigner to say. After all, Egypt had not impressed in the group stage with a poor, to say the least, performance in a 1-0 loss to Nigeria in the opener. It was followed by two unconvincing victories by the same scoreline against Guinea-Bissau and then Sudan.

With criticism at home, it was understandable, then, that Queiroz, who took the job in September, wanted to look forward rather than back. Yet the 68-year-old former Real Madrid manager has taken four teams through successful World Cup qualification campaigns and knows what he is talking about.

Nigeria were perhaps the best team in the group stage and were certainly the only one to take maximum points. Drawn against Tunisia then in the second round, the Super Eagles, newly installed as tournament favorites, were expected to win. Not only had they been impressive in the first round, with winger Moses Simon a real standout, but Tunisia had been anything but.

The North Africans had limped through to the last 16 as one of the best third-placed teams, winning just one game and losing against Mali and Gambia, the latter an embarrassing defeat. All their goals had come in the 4-0 win over Mauritania. The odds were against the Carthage Eagles flying any higher in the tournament.

A serious outbreak of COVID-19 in the Tunisia camp lengthened the odds of a win considerably. The federation announced that as many as 12 players out of the 28-man squad had tested positive, including star striker Wahbi Khazri. By the time the Nigeria game rolled around, at least seven players were unavailable. Coach Monhder Kebaier had also tested positive and his duties were taken over by assistant Bilal Kadri.

But the Tunisian coaching staff did not use the infections as an excuse at any point. Despite all the problems, or perhaps because of them, Tunisia gave everything, working harder than their opponents, who gave the impression that they expected a comfortable evening. In what was a highly disciplined performance, Tunisia gave Simon no time or space, doubled up on the Nantes star and tried to cut off the supply to the forwards.

Nigeria, who had looked the most creative of all the teams in the group stage (though admittedly the bar had been set pretty low by the rest), seemed to have few ideas and only started to come alive after Tunisia took the lead early in the second half thanks to a fierce long-range shot from Youssef Msakni. But a red card given to Alex Iwobi handed the initiative back to Tunisia, and in the end, they recorded a shock but deserved win. The 2004 champions now move into the quarter-finals and a winnable tie against Burkina Faso on Saturday. The extra six days should mean that coach Kebaier can field his strongest team, and hopes are now high.

If Egypt can take some inspiration from Tunisia when they meet Ivory Coast on Tuesday, then the Arab world will have more than one team to cheer for when the quarter-finals kick off. With Queiroz a big fan of discipline, organization and shape, he will not have that much to learn defensively, but in terms of mood and confidence, Tunisia put the mediocrity of the group stage behind them and went out to win and, importantly, took their chances.

It does not matter now how Egypt performed last week. They have a chance to reset, but they must start to take their chances after scoring only two goals in 270 minutes so far. “Look, I promise you, starting from tomorrow they are going to be doing finishing exercises from the morning until the afternoon,” Queiroz said at the weekend. “They just need to score more goals. To only play good football is not enough — we need to build up more goals and with that be more relaxed in the game.”

Tunisia’s win over Nigeria serves as a perfect reminder that not only does the tournament start here, but that it is wide open. Ghana are out, Algeria are out and now Nigeria are out. It really is up for grabs.

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
Updated 24 January 2022

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu

Coach Polyana Lago building on year of success for UAE women’s jiu-jitsu
  • Under Brazilian’s guidance, female athletes claimed 9 gold, 8 silver, 8 bronze medals at World Championship

ABU DHABI: Last year was a game changer for jiu-jitsu in the UAE, with more homegrown talent competing and winning in local and international events on mats.

UAE athletes claimed 71 medals from two international championships in the second half of 2021, with success coming at the 5th Jiu-Jitsu Asian Championship and the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship.

The record year was amplified by the rise of the UAE’s women’s team, which claimed nine gold, eight silver and eight bronze medals at the World Jiu-Jitsu Championship in November.

Following the success of 2021, Polyana Lago, coach of the UAE National Women’s Jiu-Jitsu team, is now looking for her players to use their experience as a springboard to even more glory in 2022.

“We enter the new season with great ambitions after an impressive season and great achievements last year,” said the 41-year-old Brazilian, who only began working with the women’s team in the summer of 2021.

“We actually had two really excellent weeks; we were confined to a hotel and were able to train together; it was a good experience for each of us.

“We had a fantastic season last year; our women champions put in an outstanding performance, particularly at the World Championship, when they won a total of 25 medals. Some of the girls did really well,” she added.

Lago said that the new format of the Mother of the Nation Jiu-Jitsu League helped the UAE national women’s team achieve the historic feat. “It contributed significantly to the championship’s outstanding results last year, as well as making it more professional. We were able to determine other national team talents as a result of the event,” she added.

She has high hopes for the 2022 season, with her athletes set to take part in a host of major events, including the Mother of the Nation Cup, Jiu-Jitsu President’s Cup and Abu Dhabi World Professional Jiu-Jitsu Championship. Ahead of this year’s events, Lago revealed that she is “working on key areas of development” with her players.

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup
Updated 24 January 2022

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup

Win over Kuwait earns Saudi Arabia fifth place at Junior Fencing World Cup
  • The Saudi team’s next assignment is the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships in Dubai in April

The Saudi Arabian national team finished fifth place at the Junior Fencing World Cup in Manama, Bahrain, after defeating the Kuwait team 45-29.

The team had earlier in the competition beaten Belarus 45-44, before losing 45-31 to the third-ranked French team.

Saudi Arabia was represented by Hussein Al-Taweel, Omar Al-Akkas, Ahmed Al-Faihani and Abdul Karim Al-Halifi, and overseen by coach Mohamed Fouad.

Ahmed Al-Sabban, President of the Saudi Fencing Federation, revealed his delight at the team’s finish, the best by an Asian team at the tournament, and said it was a vindication of the performance development set by the federation, as well as the strategy of the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee.

Al-Sabban said that such a finish is not the limit of Saudi fencing’s ambitions, and he is seeking even better performances at the Junior and Cadet World Fencing Championships in Dubai this April.

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
Updated 24 January 2022

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard

Countdown to Saudi International starts with event for media and influencers at Riyadh City Boulevard
  • Guests received coaching workshops and took on golf challenges ahead of the tournament at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6

RIYADH: With the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers less than two weeks away, Saudi Arabia’s leading golf coaches joined forces to host an evening introducing 60 influencers and members of the media to the sport.

The event was held at “First Golf” — a new golfing entertainment destination managed by Golf Saudi that sits at the heart of Riyadh City Boulevard.

The guests received tuition, took on golf challenges, spoke to tournament officials as well as seeing the revered Saudi International trophy that was reclaimed last year by US star Dustin Johnson — the world No. 3.

The PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers is just weeks away with some of the world’s best biggest stars teeing off at King Abdullah Economic City’s Royal Greens Golf and Country Club on Feb. 3-6.

The tournament, now part of the Asian Tour, is helping to spread interest in golf in the Kingdom, part of Golf Saudi’s strategy to see more Saudi nationals become active in the sport as part of Vision 2030. Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s fastest growing golf markets with ambitions for 2025 that include getting 3.5 million people to take up the sport for the first time, 320 contracted schools for golf curriculum activity and 135,000 children actively engaging in the sport.

“Since the inaugural Saudi International tournament in 2019, we’ve seen the golf market really thriving in the Kingdom,” said Ed Edwards, Golf Saudi chief operating officer.

“Participation numbers, interest and engagement is growing year-on-year here in the Kingdom. Hosting world class and international tournament gives an amazing platform for our mass participation programs here at Golf Saudi to roll out across clubs, schools and the wider golfing industry.

“Facilities like ‘First Golf’ makes the sport more accessible for newcomers in a fun and relaxed way for all abilities and all ages. We’re creating modern and urban touch points to allow more opportunities for Saudis to engage with the game at a purely social level,” he said.

The media evening saw Golf Saudi’s coaches give specialist coaching and education on the sport. The coaches are also overseeing the Kingdom’s very best talent — with the national teams currently notching wins recently at the Arab Golf Championship and Jordan Open as participation increases on the regional and Asian circuits.

“It’s so encouraging to see women, men, boys and girls really get into this sport — and swing a club for the very first time,” said Reem Alqubaisi, a Golf Saudi coach.

“Initiatives and modern facilities similar to what we have here at First Golf provide a great environment to introduce and educate people on this amazing sport. Everyone has been trying to smash their driver, inspired by Bryson DeChambeau and the other stars who will heading to the Kingdom in the next two weeks.”

DeChambeau will be part of a star-studded field packed with Ryder Cup stars and Major-winning golfers heading to compete in the PIF Saudi International powered by SoftBank Investment Advisers, where the likes of defending champion Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Lee Westwood, Shane Lowry, Tyrrell Hatton and Louis Oosthuizen will join him.

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
Updated 24 January 2022

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise

Messi returns, Ramos scores and PSG cruise
  • Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017

PARIS: Lionel Messi returned, another marquee signing Sergio Ramos scored as Paris Saint-Germain cruised to a 4-0 victory over Reims on Sunday to restore their Ligue 1 lead to 11 points.
“We had a good game, we took three points,” said PSG manager Mauricio Pochettino.
Earlier, Nice briefly cut the gap with a 2-0 win at Metz. But three of the teams just behind them lost.
Messi, returning from Covid, started on the bench while Kylian Mbappe returned to the starting lineup after a groin strain while Ramos made only his second league start of the season.
Marco Verratti put PSG ahead in the final minute of a sluggish first half, drilling home his first Ligue 1 goal since May 2017.
“It’s good that a player who doesn’t score often, does,” said Pochettino.
PSG upped the tempo after the break.
Ramos, who arrived from Real in the summer, scored his first goal for the club. The central defender reacted quickest to a loose ball from a PSG corner. After his first shot was parried by Predrag Rajkovic, the Spaniard reacted fastest again to slam home the rebound.
“I am happy to have played 90 minutes and I am personally happy because it is my first goal with PSG, I hope there will be many more,” said Ramos.
“It’s been three weeks since I started playing normally with the group,” he said. “We have the cup, we have the league, we have the Champions League, this is the best time to arrive in shape.”
Pochettino was happy with the goal.
“It’s good that he scored like Marco. He had a good game,” said the manager.
That goal brought Ramos level with Messi on one league goal this season, it also acted as the cue for Pochettino to send Messi on.
In the 67th minute, Messi set up Verratti for a shot that deflected off two defenders and into the top corner.
Danilo Pereira added a fourth as PSG matched their biggest league win of the season.
Earlier, Khephren Thuram’s goal set up a precious 2-0 away win for Nice as they saw off strugglers Metz to move back up to second place.
Khephren, the 20-year-old son of World Cup winner Lilian, opened the scoring in the 58th minute while a late spot-kick from Amine Gouiri completed the victory with a cheeky Panenka.
The three points lift Nice above their bitter south coast rivals Marseille, who are two points behind in third with a game in hand.
“We are still too far behind (PSG) to think about top spot. I’m more concerned by what’s coming up behind us,” said Nice coach Christophe Galtier.
“It’s about racking up the points and that can be tough when the opponent is fighting relegation.”
Strasbourg lost 4-3 at Bordeaux where Hwang Ui-Jo hit a hat-trick to lift the home team out of the bottom three.
Bordeaux, who had not scored in three league and cup games this year while conceding 10, hit three in the first 38 minutes but were made to sweat for their victory as their defense then leaked three goals.
“Hwang had a perfect game, he bailed us out on several occasions. He’s had some difficulties in the last few games, so I’m very happy that he’s back,” said Bordeaux’s under-threat coach Vladimir Petkovic.
“I am sorry that we let in three goals,” said Petkovic. “We had a very good first half but then the fear of winning the game took over.”
Rennes took an 18th-minute lead at another struggler Clermont with a goal by Baptiste Santamaria, but missed several other chances and paid in the second half.
Former Rennes player Lucas Da Cunha levelled in the 59th minute and Jordan Tell struck in the 70th minute.
Montpellier beat Monaco 3-2 to climb sixth.
Elye Wahi gave the home team a 13th-minute lead and Stephy Mavididi scored twice, the winner coming in stoppage time.
Wissam Ben Yedder and Vanderson scored for Monaco, who drop to seventh.