Rio’s 2016 Olympics had their big opening yesterday, or as the joke goes it was similar to an average Lebanese wedding. Critics are hailing Brazil’s celebration of its history without shying away from the bits that are usually covered up such as slavery, and thirsty people are drooling over the flag bearer of a Tonga, which is a country of 169 Polynesian islands.
As it is customary, Lebanon has a collection of athletes – nine – that are representing the country in Rio. Those athletes are:
- Ray Bassil – Shooting,
- Mariana Sahakian – Table Tennis,
- Ahmad Hazer – Athletics,
- Chirine Njem – Athletics,
- Anthony Barbar – Swimming,
- Gabriella Doueihy – Swimming,
- Elias Nassif – Judo,
- Mona Sheaito – Fencing,
- Richard Mourjan – Canoe Slalom.
Chirine Njem will be the first woman to represent Lebanon in a Marathon race. Richard Mourjan will also be our first time participating in a Canoe Slalom.
Of the nine aforementioned athletes, Ray Bassil and Mona Sheaito participated in London’s 2012 Olympics.
The last time Lebanon won a medal at the Olympics goes back to 1980, at the Moscow olympics, where Hassan Bechara won a bronze for Greco-Roman wrestling.
In total, our country has a total of 4 medals to its name, two silver and two bronze, divided along the following manner:
- 1952 (Helsinki Olympics): Zakaria Chehab (silver medal in men’s wrestling); Khalil Taha (bronze medal in men’s wrestling)
- 1972 (Munich’s Olympics): Mohamed Traboulsi (silver medal in weightlifting),
- 1980 (Moscow’s olympics): Hassan Bechara (bronze medal in wrestling).
The country has never had an athlete win a gold medal. I guess this is not exactly shocking given how little investment our governments put into sports in general and into nourishing the many athletic talents that our country has. Even sending athletes to the Olympics has proven, over and over again, to be “complicated” for our government. Those that went to London in 2012 reportedly had to finance a big chunk of their participation.
So it’s to that backdrop that it seems unbelievable that Lebanon may have its first shot at a golden medal. As reported by CNN, since her disappointing start in London back in 2012, Lebanon’s Ray Bassil has been working really hard, despite the obstacles set forth by her own country, to get better at what she does. She has since collected medal upon medal, rising to become the world’s #1 female trap shooter.
Ray will be competing on Sunday August 7th (tomorrow) at 3PM Beirut time.
The schedule of Lebanon’s athletes is as follows, as sent to me by a friend:
Saturday, August 6th
* Mariana Sahakian – Table Tennis.
Sunday, August 7th:
* Ray Bassil: Shooting.
* Gabriella Doueihy: Swimming (women’s 400m freestyle).
* Richard Merjan: Canoe Slalom Men’s canoe single
Tuesday, August 9th:
* Elias Nassif: Judo – 81 kg elimination round of 32
Wednesday, August 10th:
* Mona Sheaito: Fencing,
Thursday, August 11th:
* Anthony Barbar: Swimming (men’s 50m freestyle).
Sunday, August 14th:
* Chirine Njem: Women’s marathon.
Tuesday, August 16th:
* Ahmad Hazer: Men’s 110m hurdle race.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Lebanese if our participation went drama free. Lucky for us, the drama started on day zero with the Lebanese and Israeli delegations nearly fighting over being assigned the same bus to be transported to the opening ceremony.
The Times of Israel were the first to report on the issue (link), before Lebanese media picked up on the news. Israelis were appalled – gasp – and found the precedence to be “dangerous.” Meanwhile in Lebanon, the news is receiving more comical responses.
There’s not really much to read into it, and the only entity to blame for assigning the same bus for the Lebanese and Israeli delegations is the organizing committee that figured putting two enemy countries that recently commemorated the ten year anniversary of their latest war together on the same transportation vehicle was a good idea.
The Israelis can go on and on about how being blocked by the Lebanese delegation from accessing the bus is “unsportsmanship” behavior. And we, as Lebanese, will have differing opinions about this depending on where we fall on the political spectrum. But the fact of the matter is and will always be: it’s not unsportsmanship to protest Israel’s violations of our land, our people, and the land of the people that have been forcibly made refugees in our country. The Olympic games have never been devoid of political tone, and this is just another manifestation of that.
The Lebanese athletes sharing the bus with the Israeli delegation would have also had repercussions in Lebanon, as it is illegal for us to have any sort of interaction with Israelis. Or have we forgotten the international selfie scandal?
So in summary: we have nine athletes making us proud, one of them might make Lebanese history, and we’ve already fought with Israel. Just another typical day in Lebanon.