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Lessons from Rio Olympics
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 06 - 09 - 2016

Only in recent years people have started noticing the limited participation of Arabs in the Olympics. This year Arab countries not only showed their good presence in the international event but also gave us a lot of lessons and they deserve our thinking for some time.
Several Arab athletes took part in Rio Olympics but the event was ignored by people in some countries. We believe that the main objective of the Olympics is to strengthen unity of countries around the world and their people, burying their hatred and grudges.
Some comments on Arab participation were superficial as they focused on the dress of participating Arab women, reflected their obnoxious attempt to find fault with Arabs and attack them. This shows that there is something wrong in the mentality of such people.
Many Arab countries took part in the Olympics simply because of the participation of their women athletes. When women from Western countries participate and excel in the event they receive praise and applause. At the same time, instead of commending the excellent performance of Arab athletes, some people criticize their dress code.
When Saudi female athletes won lower positions in certain games even after putting extra efforts, some people criticized them, ignoring the fact that there are no provisions for women sports in the Kingdom and athletes do not receive professional training to participate in international competitions.
The participation of a refugee team at Rio for the first time was an exciting development. It gives hope to victims of wars and natural calamities. Despite living under the debris, siege and ban, these refugees get hope for living. Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini's performance in Rio was remarkable as she won the 100m heats for women's butterfly swimming.
Mardini and her sister had saved the lives of 20 people from drowning in the Aegean Sea. Thirty minutes after setting off from Turkey, the motor on their boat, which was meant for six people but carrying 20, began to fail. Most of those on board could not swim. With no other alternative, Mardini, Sarah and two strong swimmers jumped into the sea and swam for three hours in open water to stop their dinghy from capsizing, eventually reaching Lesbos.
Mardini's participation in Rio gave the Olympics the real meaning as an international competition. Her endeavors to save 20 lives would be considered as an international championship and I believe that all the Olympic medals would not be enough to recognize her effort.
The International Olympic Federation respects all cultures and traditions of participating countries. Before London Olympics women athletes were allowed to wear the dress they wanted in accordance with their culture and faith. But when Egyptian volleyball team opted to play in hijab instead of bikinis they were criticized even after the game, in which the Germans emerged as winners.
The Dutch team later appeared wearing hijab in solidarity with Egyptian women. This shows that women are not enemies of other women and they back each other at times of need. The Western press highlighted the Dutch gesture as an expression of respect for other cultures and nations.
We should not be surprised for that media attack on the Egyptian volleyball team when we hear the story of Brazilian judo player Rafaela Silva who won the country's first gold medal at Rio Olympics. She wept while accepting her medal remembering the painful experience she has had at London Olympics where she was disqualified for an illegal leg grab during a fight against Hedvig Karakas of Hungary.
Later Silva, being a black woman, faced a lot of criticism from her own people through social media and they described her as a monkey. That bad experience had forced her to thinking of quitting judo. But her loyal friends supported her and provided her with counseling and intensive training that encouraged her to participate in Rio. Racism did not stop Silva.
Olympic Games not only promote competition in sports but also deepen the principles of coexistence between nations, irrespective of their differences. This is what two South and North Korean players symbolized at Rio as they stood happily in front of the world to take a selfie. It proved that the two countries' people reject their political differences and have a desire to coexist outside their borders.
The case of Philippine swimmer Yasmin Al-Khaledi, who represented her country since London Olympics, raised a number of questions about her Saudi father who left the Philippines after marrying her mother and did not come back. The Saudi Embassy in Manila then said that it had no information about him.
We have also learned the best lesson in honesty at Rio. American tennis player Jack Sock baffled his opponent and the crowd as he requested the referee to count a beat in favor of his opponent and asked him to replay the game. When the play was replayed and his claim was proved Sock was given a big round of applause appreciating his honesty. The spirit of sportsmanship should be based on such lofty values in order to promote fair competition and ensure peaceful coexistence with others.

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