Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics

Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics
Bawwab, 24, who was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian refugees, is chasing a dream that is not his alone. (REUTERS)
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Updated 14 June 2024
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Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics

Palestinian swimmer hopes to lift spirits of Gazans at Olympics

DUBAI: Palestinian swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab, who is training for the 2024 Olympic Games, has a mission. He wants to represent Palestinians suffering from Israel’s bombardment of Gaza by making a splash on the international stage.
These Olympics, which kick off in Paris on July 26, are perhaps more important than the last games in 2021 when he competed in Tokyo, he said.
“We, as Palestinian players, are here to raise the flag and show people that we are here, and even if we face difficulties, we will be there and represent the Palestinian people,” he said.
The 2.3 million Palestinians living in Gaza need all the help they can get as they endure dire conditions.
Israel agression on Gaza killed more than 37,000 people and reduced much of the Gaza Strip to rubble.
Bawwab, 24, who was born in Saudi Arabia to Palestinian refugees, is chasing a dream that is not his alone.
“My father’s dream was to learn how to swim and become a swimmer,” Al Bawwab told Reuters in Dubai, where he conducts his workouts and runs a furniture factory.
But his father, Rashad Al Bawwab, who left Palestinian territory when he was 18, was not able to realize that dream.
“I wanted Yazan to enter swimming, because I loved swimming and it’s a beautiful sport,” the senior Al Bawwab said.
His father said the upcoming games in Paris are an opportunity for his son to help the Palestinian cause.
“But what’s more important is that he represents an oppressed people, whose rights are repressed,” Rashad said.
Aside from the near constant bombardments, Palestinians in Gaza are suffering a humanitarian crisis, with severe shortages of food, fuel and medicine. Many of their homes have been destroyed.
Al Bawwab was born and raised outside of the Palestinian territories. But he says: “I remain Palestinian, Palestine is in my heart and all my thoughts.”
In Dubai, Al Bawwab trains by himself and with retired Palestinian Olympic swimmer Ahmed Gebrel, who represented Palestine at the London 2012 and Rio 2016 Olympic Games.
Gebrel says: “I’m confident that he’s at the top level and will represent us in the best way.”
Al Bawwab will travel to an Olympic training camp in the Netherlands next week and then onto France. Ahead of the competition, his focus will be on three things — training, eating, and sleeping.
“Inshallah (God willing) we’ll win something, and make the country and the people proud,” he says.
“I want to show people that Palestinians are strong. If we’re given an opportunity, we’ll take it.”


Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener

Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener
Updated 11 sec ago
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Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener

Argentina snatch Morocco draw, Spain win Olympic men’s football opener
Argentina are looking to win men’s football gold in Paris for the third time after previous successes in 2004 and 2008
They trailed 2-0 in the Group B game to a Soufiane Rahimi brace for Morocco

PARIS: Cristian Medina scored the equalizer in the 16th added minute as Argentina came from two down to draw 2-2 with Morocco on the opening day of men’s Olympic football action on Wednesday, while Spain edged Uzbekistan 2-1.
Argentina are looking to win men’s football gold in Paris for the third time after previous successes in 2004 and 2008, but Javier Mascherano’s side looked set to get off to a losing start in Saint-Etienne.
They trailed 2-0 in the Group B game to a Soufiane Rahimi brace for Morocco but did pull one back through Giuliano Simeone before Medina finished off a crazy move right at the death.
Morocco captain Achraf Hakimi, the Paris Saint-Germain full-back who is one of the biggest names featuring in the tournament, set up forward Rahimi for the opener at the end of a fine move in first-half stoppage time.
The reigning African Under-23 champions doubled their lead six minutes into the second half from the penalty spot, UAE-based forward Rahimi stroking in the spot-kick after Ilias Akhomach was brought down.
Argentina coach Mascherano, who starred in the teams that won gold in Athens and Beijing, had at one point hoped to persuade Lionel Messi to feature among the three permitted overage players in his squad otherwise limited to those under 23.
Messi opted not to come to the Games, and the biggest names in their side here were Manchester City striker Julian Alvarez and captain Nicolas Otamendi, the Benfica defender.
Simeone, son of former Argentina star Diego, came off the bench to pull one back midway through the second half, and Medina saved a point in the 106th minute.
Otamendi’s shot was turned onto the bar by the goalkeeper and Bruno Amione headed the follow-up off the woodwork, but Medina was on hand to make it third time lucky and secure a draw.
Group B rivals Iraq and Ukraine meet later in Lyon.
Silver medallists in Tokyo three years ago, Spain were made to work hard to beat Uzbekistan in their Group C opener at the Parc des Princes in Paris.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino was among the spectators watching a Spain side featuring two members of their Euro 2024-winning squad in Alex Baena of Villarreal and Barcelona’s Fermin Lopez.
Spain went ahead just before the half-hour mark when Sergio Gomez’s free-kick was helped on by Abel Ruiz to the back post where Marc Pubill turned the ball in.
However, Uzbekistan had chances and drew level from the penalty spot in first-half added time.
Pau Cubarsi was penalized for a foul in the box following a VAR review, and Uzbekistan captain Eldor Shomurodov, the Roma forward, converted the penalty.
Cubarsi, the 17-year-old Barcelona prodigy, had been booked early in the game and did not reappear for the second half.
Spain got a penalty of their own for a foul on Aimar Oroz, but Gomez’s kick was saved by goalkeeper Abduvohid Nematov.
However, Gomez made up for that by grabbing what proved to be the winner just after the hour mark.
Juan Miranda cut the ball back from the byline for Gomez — who has just joined Real Sociedad from Manchester City — to fire in.
Spain are in Group C with Egypt and the Dominican Republic.
The pick of Wednesday’s later games will see hosts France face the United States in Marseille in Group A, with Thierry Henry’s team hoping to win a medal despite failing in their attempts to enrol the services of Kylian Mbappe.

French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics
Updated 24 July 2024
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French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics

French authorities detain Russian man on accusations of planning to ‘destabilize’ Olympics
  • A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment
  • He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France”

PARIS: French authorities say they have detained a Russian man on suspicion of planning to “destabilize the Olympic Games.”
A 40-year-old Russia-born man was arrested on Tuesday at his Paris apartment, a statement from the Paris prosecutor’s office said Wednesday.
He was charged with “conducting intelligence work on behest of a foreign power” with an aim to “provoke hostilities in France,” crimes punishable with 30-year sentence in France, the statement said.
During an official search of the suspect’s home in Paris, police agents found items that “raised fears of his intention to organize events likely to lead to destabilization of the Olympic Games,” prosecutors said.
It comes after the interior minister said earlier Wednesday that security authorities made an arrest and foiled a separate plot to attack the Olympics.
Minister Gérald Darmanin said the security authorities thwarted a plot against the Paris Olympics, two days before the official start of the Summer Games.
France has been on high alert over the past few weeks as preparations to host the 2024 Olympics hit the final stretch. The Games officially kick off with a lavish and high-security opening ceremony on the River Seine on Friday.
The Games’ organizers face security challenges, including cyberattack concerns, amid high international tensions because of the Russia’s war in Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
There are also elaborate disinformation campaigns orchestrated out of Russia, targeting the Olympics and France’s recent elections, according to French officials and cybersecurity experts in Europe and the United States.
Darmanin said in an interview Wednesday with French broadcaster BFMTV that a young man was arrested in Gironde, a region in the southwest of France, on suspicion of “planning a violent action against the Olympic Games.”
Police arrested an 18-year-old man Tuesday on accusations that he was planning to target the “organization of the Games,” Darmanin said.
He did not give details on the suspect’s potential targets or whether they were in Paris or in other French cities hosting Olympic events that run through Aug. 11.
“We are still working on this case ... (we) avoid giving details ... but we think there is a link,” Darmanin said. “It’s been established that this person wanted to attack the Olympic Games.”
Paris has deployed 35,000 police officers each day for the Olympics, with a peak of 45,000 for the opening ceremony. In addition, 10,000 soldiers are taking part in security operations in the Paris region.
A 10,000-strong military force is patrolling streets and sites in the Paris region and carrying out other security missions.
France also is getting help from more than 40 countries that together have sent at least 1,900 police reinforcements.


Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS
Updated 24 July 2024
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Palestinians are winners by just being at Paris Games, say athletes

Yazan Al Bawwab of Palestine, with a Palestine flag before training. REUTERS

PARIS: The presence of Palestinian athletes at the Paris Olympic Games is already a major victory for the team amid the conflict in the Middle East, they said on Saturday, less than a week before the start of the Olympics.
The Palestinian team for the Games starting on Friday consists of six athletes who will be competing in boxing, judo, taekwondo, shooting and swimming, with slim hopes of a medal.”Whether a medal or not, we already win,” swimmer Yazan Al Bawwab told Reuters.
“The fact that we’re here. The fact that people don’t want us to be here, they don’t want us to play sports. They don’t want us to exist.”
“People don’t want Palestinians to exist. They look at the flag and they don’t want it. So to be here is a win,” said Al Bawwab, who will be the team’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony.
About 1,200 people were killed and more than 250 were seized and taken as hostages to Gaza in an attack on southern Israel led by the Palestinian militant group Hamas last Oct. 7, according to Israeli tallies.
The Israeli military offensive launched in response in Hamas-governed Gaza has killed almost 39,000 Palestinians, health officials in the Palestinian enclave say. Israel says 326 of its soldiers have been killed in Gaza.
In the run-up to the Paris Olympics, Palestinian athletes had been given support by Arab states, including Kuwait, Qatar, Libya and Egypt, to allow training in those countries.
Palestinian sports officials have said that since the start of the conflict in October 2023 more than 300 athletes, referees and sports officials have been killed and all sports facilities in Gaza demolished.
“I said it before but I’m one of the luckiest people in the world,” swimmer Valerie Tarazi said. “I have the opportunity to compete for my country, to raise the flag for my country.”
“My heart is with them. Every time I swim, every time I jump in the pool, I’m thinking about the people of Palestine, their struggles. And I just want to represent them in the best way possible.”


‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on
Updated 24 July 2024
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‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on

‘We love life’: Gaza’s war-weary footballers play on
  • Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia
  • In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble

JABALIA, Palestinian Territories: On an improvised pitch in war-ravaged Gaza, a young player and goalkeeper block out the boisterous crowd and focus solely on the football as they square off.
The referee blows the whistle and the penalty-taker fires the ball into the makeshift goal, sparking wild celebrations as spectators swarm him.
For fans and players, Tuesday’s match in the Jabalia refugee camp was a welcome distraction from the pangs of hunger and exhaustion endured over nearly 300 days of the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip.
Referee Rami Mustafa Abu Hashish told AFP that football helped “restore a semblance of life” to Jabalia, devastated by Israeli bombardments and fighting which have laid waste to schools, stadiums and homes, and uprooted families many times over.
In the courtyard of a school-turned-shelter, the two sides vied for a trophy one player said was salvaged from the rubble.
The game created a festive atmosphere, with spectators pulling out chairs and leaning over the railings of the three-story compound to cheer.
A group of boys packed onto an empty lorry bed for a better view.
“We will play despite hunger and thirst, we will compete because we love life,” read one child’s sign in both English and Arabic.
Jabalia was hit particularly hard in an Israeli offensive launched in May, part of a fierce campaign sweeping northern Gaza — an area the military had previously said was out of the control of Hamas militants.
As fighting rages, humanitarian agencies struggle to deliver aid and warn of a looming famine.
Residents have told AFP there is barely any food left in the north, and what little reaches them comes at an astronomical cost.
For the footballers, the match offered a rare escape from concerns about food and water shortages.
They have been unable to play since the October 7 outbreak of the war triggered by Hamas’s attacks, which resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 44 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory campaign has killed at least 39,145 Palestinians, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
“Since the war on the Gaza Strip, we’ve stayed away from sports because all the clubs were destroyed, all the playgrounds were destroyed, but today, we made something out of nothing,” said Saif Abu Saif, one of the players.
The Gaza education ministry says 85 percent of educational facilities in the territory are out of service because of the war.
Many have been turned into shelters for war displaced as most of the besieged strip’s 2.4 million people have been uprooted multiple times.
Coach Wael Abu Saif said he was determined to attend Tuesday’s match despite still experiencing pain from wounds sustained in a February attack. Now in a wheelchair, he said he lost the use of both his legs.
“I’ve loved football since I was a child, I love tournaments, I love playing,” he told AFP.
“I want to prove to the whole world... that we continue to move forward with the most basic of our rights, which is to play football.”


Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur
Updated 24 July 2024
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Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur

Refugee Team canoeist Soltani turns heartbreak into positive spur
  • Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022
  • “There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP

PARIS: Refugee Olympic team canoeist Saman Soltani told AFP that being unable to return to Iran two years ago could have either “broken you down” — or become, as it was for her, “an opportunity to improve.”
Indeed the 28-year-old arrives at the Games as champion of Austria, the country where she sought asylum in 2022 when she realized returning to her family in Iran was out of the question following an artistic swimming training camp in Spain.
She was provided safe haven there after a desperate call for help to Uwe Schlokat, whom she had met when he visited Iran five years previously. He was the only person she knew in Europe.
“There’s an artistic swimming camp in Spain, and because of the security reason, I couldn’t go back anymore to Iran,” she told AFP.
“So I only knew one person in Europe, and he was living in Austria. He is like my second father, and he helped me a lot.
“I go to Austria, and I asked for asylum. I integrated into this culture. And I have good friends and good people around me.”
Soltani is remarkably self-assured given she has not seen her family for a couple of years and is unlikely to see them in the forseeable future.
“Everything that happens to you has two sides, and it depends on you how do you look at the things,” said Soltani.
“So, you can see them as an opportunity to improve, or you can see them as something that breaks you down.
“Everything is about how you think about the things. Of course, it’s hard at first because we are all human with emotions, but I think the biggest achievement in my life is I always try to find a solution and keep going, and that’s why I’m here.”
She says that along with her fellow Refugee Team members — there are 36 in all — they are not just competing for personal glory but for a far greater cause.
“We represent more than 100 million displaced people, which I wanted to be a role model for them, to tell them, like, when the things look really bad, you just have to keep going,” she said.
“You should not get disappointed, and you should never give up.”
Soltani, who competes in the 500-meter Sprint on August 7, had already shown her prowess for Iran in both artistic swimming and then kayaking, winning silver in the latter at the 2018 Asian Under-23 championships.
Soltani — who has a degree in accountancy — showed her stubborn side when she was told she would never make it in kayaking.
“I was just watching the Iranian national canoe/kayak team that day and I just love it.
“I decided to start and everyone told me it’s too late, you cannot.
“Because everyone who do like professional sport, they started at a really early age.
“But what they didn’t think about was that I was a swimmer, an artistic swimmer. And I was multiple champion.
“So I started kayaking and this is another thing that maybe it looks impossible for other people but doesn’t mean that it’s impossible for you — so give yourself a chance in any situation.”
Yet she says her ambitions lie on a far higher plane — Olympic gold in Los Angeles in 2028, whether for Austria she does not know as despite being their national champion she has yet to be given Austrian nationality.
“I know I’m special, and I knew it from when I was a child, because I always liked to do big things,” she said.
“And so I knew it, and I’m excited to see what I will do in the future. Because I know I want to be world famous.”