Lebanon At 2016 Rio Olympics: Our Athletes, The Possibility of a Gold Medal & Fighting With Israel Over A Bus

Lebanon Olympics 2016

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.

Ray Bassil Olympics 2016 Rio

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.

Lebanon - Israel - Rio 2016

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.

Religion & Politics: What Happened At The Sagesse – Riyadi Basketball Game

Here’s another concept that it seems to be tough for Lebanon to grasp: sportsmanship.

For the second time in two consecutive games, Lebanon’s top 2 basketball teams were found at each other’s throats as the games they were playing ended. You’d think someone would have learned from the first round but it seems we were too foolishly optimistic. One can not hope for any form of civility in this country, even in sports.

The stories over what happened are numerous. The one that was relayed to me by a relative who was at the game is the following: Towards the end of the 4th quarter, when it was obvious that Sagesse had won and tied the tiers 2-2, the players had apparently an agreement to pass the remaining seconds with the score unchanged. Dewarik Spencer, Sagesse’s player, then decided to score a two-point basket at the last second which angered Lauren Woods, who plays with Riyadi, leading to an altercation between the two men as is obvious in the following video:

Subsequently, the very civil crowds attending the game decided to join in on the fun. Next thing you know, the players had joined in on the fighting while LBC’s Gayath was lost for words commenting on the absolutely beautiful scene in front of him. But does the story of the fight, regardless of sides, even matter?

A player participating in the beating

A player participating in the beating

The fight, however, is not that of a simple two points scored.

Prior to the game at hand, Sagesse’s fans were circulating the following picture online to flex their muscles. Who can beat them if Jesus was on their side?

photo

These are Lebanese Forces Civil War headlines

The chants by Riyadi’s supporters at the previous game are the other side of the coin. It felt like 1997 all over again when the fights were a constellation of sectarian-political causes. Christians versus Muslims. Lebanese Forces persecuted as they were at the time versus Future Movement, then working with the Assad regime.

Our Lebanese time machine still works. We always find ways to put ourselves back in time, because who doesn’t like familiarity?

It’s weird how these two teams, belonging to two political parties that are currently in bed with each other, still manage to hate each other as much as they do. You can’t help but wonder what would have happened had Riyadi been a Shiite-centric party with Hezbollah funding? Count your lucky stars people the party of god has not ventured into basketball yet.

The main problem at hand is not that Lebanese Christians hate its Muslims (and vice versa) or that the Lebanese Forces and the Future Movement cannot eradicate the history both of them share by a few years of alliance.

The problem is that these problems, held at bay with Lebanon’s fragile politics, are finding their way to erupt at something as meaningless in the grand scheme of things as a championship basketball game. What do these people have left for when something major actually happens? Will they bring out their tanks and missiles and work their way through the argument then?

The problem is that our sports are so infiltrated with politics they’ve lost the true meaning of what sports should be: something to bring people together in a friendly competition. If you support Sagesse, one can assume with a high degree of accuracy that you are Christian and prefer the Lebanese Forces politically. If you support Riyadi, one assumes you’re Sunni and a fan of Hariri. Is that how it’s supposed to be? Isn’t sports about supporting the team you believe has the best game not the one which satisfies your sectarian itch?

The even bigger problem is that people are proud of the fights at hand. Sagesse’s supporters call Riyadi’s supporters tatar. The reverse is also true. If you check both teams’ Facebook pages, you will find a slew of hateful speech towards each other that struts the lines of sectarianism and civil war rhetoric quite proudly. Here are a few screenshots, with next to no voices of reason:

It hasn’t even been long since the world basketball federation lifted the ban on Lebanese basketball for the clear infiltration of the sector by our horrid politics. The many months the sector spent in limbo, not knowing whether it would be able to launch again or not, were not enough to teach anyone a lesson.

No one learned, fight after fight, that there’s a tangible need to raise ticket prices. No one learned that there’s a dire need for new regulations that limit politics and political money, effectively removing that extra player each team has on court. It’s not a surprise though that there are no lessons learned because since when do we as Lebanese actually do that?

 

 

Lebanon’s Team Makes Its Entrance at the London 2012 Olympics

Mustapha of Beirut Spring is right. We don’t really care about the Olympics. And there’s no explanation for it. The only reason I tuned in to the Opening Ceremony was because I read on Twitter that the British were doing an excellent job at it. The moment I tuned in, Lord Voldemort was terrorizing children in an homage to British literature. I, of course, was transfixed and decided to persevere.

However, what we do care about is our men and women who make us proud in representing Lebanon with all that they can, despite the non-existent support they get from almost all sports-related institutions and our government first and foremost.

These are Lebanon’s athletes making their entrance at the Olympics and making us proud. They may not win anything but the fact that they are there, against all odds, is honorable in itself.

Thank you @figo29 for the picture

The 10 athletes are:

– Tvin Moumjoghlian (Ping Pong)
– Andrea Paoli (Taekwondo)
– Katya Bachrouche (Swimming)
– Ray Bassil (Shooting)
– Ahmad Hazer (Athletics)
– Gretta Taslakian (Athletics)
– Zain Shaito (Fencing)
– Mona Shaito (Fencing)
– Caren Chammas (Judo)
– Wael Koubrosli (Swimming)

An 11th athlete, Fadi Tannous, passed away a few days ago. (Details). May he rest in peace.

(Click on their name for a profile) and I wish them all the best of luck.

Euro 2012 Final: Italy vs Spain aka Super Fun Italy vs Super Boring Spain

Remember way back when I told you how I, as an Italy fan, was getting ready for my team’s opening game against Spain in the group stages?

I had my jersey ready.

I had the flag at my disposal.

And for good measure, I had all forms of deities I can get to at hand:

Now that my team has reached the final after an awesome win against Germany (which I was deep-down expecting but went about lowering my expectations and doing some necessary pre-game damage control, just in case. Those Lebanese football fans can sure be a pain when you lose), how will I get ready for the big finale?

Yes, that is pasta! And this is how a friend and I celebrated 😀

Well, if anything, this Euro tournament has shown that you cannot dismiss the Italians easily, which many (including some of their supporters *raises hand* have done).

1 – Some hadn’t expected Italy to get past the group stage. They did.

2 – Some didn’t expect Italy to then beat a very mediocre England in the quarter finals. They dominated England and were unlucky not to have won in the game’s original time. Many had even predicted a 3-0 score for England. Those same people are predicting a 3-1 Spain win today.

3 – Once Italy reached the semi-finals against Germany, the only thing you could hear is resounding confidence how this will be the end of the road for the Italians. But it was far from it. The Italians should have won with more than two goals.

So what’s my mentality going in to the final?

Well, I cannot but have a faint tinge of panic (or a lot of panic). But I am proud of what they have done in this tournament. Italy have proven that they are so much fun to watch. They are attacking, creating chances. Not just scoring on a counter-attack and parking their legendary bus, stopping any team from even thinking about scoring.

On the other hand, Spain have been boring this Euro tournament. Their game against Portugal was such a pain to watch that I ended up catching up on my reading and blogging about a festival named Wickerpark before they reached the penalty shoot-out during which I still had no idea which team I wanted to advance. Out of the six goals they scored, four were against the same team (Ireland). Their showing against all the other teams they played (Croatia, Portugal, Italy) was far from impressive.

Am I confident Italy will win today? Hardly. But regardless of what the result of tonight’s game turns out to be, I – as a supporter of the Azzurri – am extremely happy with what they’ve accomplished and hope the cherry on top will be them winning.

Rising from the tournament’s underdogs to stars, this Italy side has proven that one doesn’t simply take them lightly. The game tonight will be great to watch, as was the group stage game between both teams.

I think Pirlo will be as great as he was in all of this tournament’s games. I think Balotelli will shine again. I think Buffon will prove, yet again, why he is the world’s best goalkeeper – bar none.

But regardless of what happens: FORZA EFFIN ITALIA! I can’t wait to see what Prandelli does with Italy in the next World Cup.

 

Watch the Italy vs Germany Euro 2012 Semi-Final Football Game Online

As the Euro 2012 tournament draws close to an end, the second and last semi-final game is here between football rivals Germany and Italy.

Germany haven’t beaten Italy since 1995 and they’ve never beaten them in competitive games. Ever. On the other hand, the Italians should be extremely tired after their 120 minute game against England in the quarter finals. The game is up in the air. As an Italy fan, it saddens me to predict a Germany win.

But a streak has got to end sometime, no?

Either way, here’s a link to watch the game online (here).

And FORZA ITALIA! Always.

The Last Part of UEFA Euro 2012 Round 1 Explained

I was reading the past couple of days sports articles about how a Croatia-Spain 2-2 tie would see Italy out, even if they beat Ireland by 10 goals.

So I asked people about that because it didn’t make sense to me and I was linked to the tie-breaker regulations, which are as follows:

If Spain ties Croatia, they would both have the same number of points as Italy in the case of Italy beating Ireland. In that case, they’ll go down through the above criteria in order. The first two, a & b, do not break the tie. Point c, however, which precedes goal difference, does. Italy tied Croatia 1-1. In the event of Spain tying Croatia 2-2, the number of goals scored by Spain and Croatia in their own game is higher and therefore, they would both advance. Unfair? Well, it’s the way things are.

Either way, sports blog figo29 has taken his time to write out a detailed scenario for all the different possibilities for the next few days playing out. So if you want to know, for example, how Holland can actually still advance despite having lost twice, I invite you to read this very simple analysis here.

Until then, I’ll go back to praying for the sake of Italy advancing. They leave their supporters to the very last round every single time.