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.

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How Jackie Chamoun’s Breasts “Ruined” Lebanon’s Flawless Reputation

We are a country with a body image. Literally.

The Lebanese candidate to the skiing segment of the Olympics, Jackie Chamoun, is making the rounds lately due to a nude photo shoot that she underwent last year. The reason her pictures are making the round this year is simply due to her becoming known subsequently to her moderate national exposure post Olympics fever.

Naturally, in pure Lebanese fashion, what Jackie Chamoun did is being turned into a national scandal, of her disgracing our country by baring her breasts to the ice cold of Faraya and the lens of a foreign photographer.

This is the video in question:

Are breasts only scandalous when they’re Lebanese?

Jackie Chamoun isn’t the first nor will she be the last Lebanese woman to take off her clothes for a camera lens. A few months ago, a reputable website in the country turned pictures of a woman named Rasha Kahil, taken back in 2008, into a matter of national importance. How dare she reveal her private parts to the entire world? Does she have no shame? Doesn’t she have in the perfect reputation of her country in mind while doing such heinous acts?

When it comes to sex, we have a long way to go. Perhaps things are slowly changing. But there’s more to Lebanon than Beirut and its surroundings.

Why is it that Lebanese T&A is highly susceptible of immediately becoming a scandal, of being extrapolated to a figurative matter of national identity, of becoming a national crisis? Aren’t they just breasts?

Is it because there’s a fear that such behavior would somehow diffuse off of a computer screen? Is it because of a fear that what those women do will somehow ruin the minds of those who don’t do similarly? Or is it because what those women do does not fit with some people’s moral code of choice?

Why is this country so in love with gossip that things are very rarely seen as they are? Why do we over-sensationalize meaningless things when we have so many other things that have inborn sensationalism?

I can think of so many things that warrant are true scandals about this country, that warrant a discussion much, much more than Jackie Chamou’s breasts. At the top of my head, I can think of the several explosions that have taken place within the past couple of months alone and the fact that they’ve become second nature to life in this place. I can think of a TV station that figured instagramming the body parts of a suicide bomber was a good idea. I can think of the fact that we haven’t had a decently functioning government for the past year and nor will we have one for the next year, it seems. I can think of the fact that presidential elections are literally in 3 months but we’re still waiting for the savior president’s name to be “inspired” by neighboring countries. I can think of the fact that going to a mall requires you to go through more checkpoint than an airport’s border control. I can even think of the graffiti artist that was arrested only two days ago by some unknown party’s henchmen because of him being at the “wrong” place. I can even think of the many pictures of the living conditions of some Lebanese in the North that should be scandalous.

I just need to take a look around and open my eyes to the realization that I am living in a disintegrating country to ask myself the following question: what spotless reputation is Jackie Chamoun “ruining” and why is there outrage that the Lebanese Olympic committee should have known of her past behavior?

I’m not saying that what Jackie or Racha or any other unknown Lebanese woman whose pictures have yet to surface did is something that all women should do. I’m not saying that women whose choice of attire or of lifestyle is more conservative are backward thinking and detrimental to the cause of their gender. It’s far from the case. This isn’t about the cliche debate that naturally finds its way to pop up in such settings: veils versus nudity. How about neither?

What this is actually about is the importance and privacy of personal beliefs and how this country views your private beliefs as entirely up for grabs. It’s about how those personal beliefs, whether they fit with yours or not, are not a matter of national importance nor are they something that should be sensationalized into a scandal when there are so many other things for us to get angry about. What this is about is, perhaps, about the importance of not being insecure in your choices – whatever those choices may be, assuming they’re within a legal context obviously – and not be ashamed of them in any way whatsoever.

Jackie Chamoun is a beautiful and sexy woman who did absolutely nothing wrong. It’s sad that she will end up being named and shamed for something as silly as what she did. It’s sad that a few simple and sexy photographs will overshadow her professional skiing skills. It’s sad that some people’s well-rooted insecurities will overshadow and overcomplicate her choice.

What’s even sadder is that a country in as deep a shithole as Lebanon gets up in a fit about all the wrong things when there are so many things to get up in a fit about while no one simply does. But I guess living in a lala land where we have the prerogative of turning some pictures into a scandal is better than waking up to this reality. It’s much easier to believe, it seems, that Jackie Chamoun’s breasts are singlehandedly ruining Lebanon’s spotless and flawless reputation.

Welcome To The Republic of Cheap Controversy

We, as Lebanese, sure know how to breed controversies. We love it. We adore it. We feed our need for gossip off of it. And it happens so often without it becoming redundant.

We have a need for it.

The latest:

Yes, you guessed it: Mashrou3 Leila’s decision not to open for RHCP.

The discussion regarding Mashrou3 Leila nuclear bombing themselves by giving up their opening gig for the RHCP took a turn that I didn’t foresee. It became less and less about how they got to their decision and more about whether their decision was correct or not.

Of course, the debate isn’t about supporting the Palestinians or not. It’s not about hating Israel or not.

Were they bullied? Or did they reach their decision out of conviction? And it is here that I believe is the issue’s main question.

Mashrou3 Leila signed to be the RHCP’s opening act a long time ago. They knew RHCP had a concert in Israel and yet they still signed the contract. To say they didn’t know about the Israeli concert would infer they are massively ignorant, which they are not. So for all matters and purposes, they didn’t care about the next stops on RHCP’s tour.

And they canceled their gig. Were they bullied into it? Well, speaking from experience, the anti-Israel crowd have a knack for making anyone who doesn’t play for them feel as if he’s an accomplice to killing all the Palestinian children.

You’re not with us? Then you’re a traitor and I hope you can sleep at night knowing the blood of Palestinians is on your hands and knowing that you are also stealing their land. 

It is the same Bush-era logic that they love to hate: you are either with us or against us. You can’t be in between.

Select Lebanese bloggers know how it is when you don’t write in agreement with them. They will bash you. They will threaten you. They will call you names. They will make you feel as if you’ve done something wrong which you perfectly know you didn’t. And if you’re tough enough, you won’t budge.

Mashrou3 Leila budged. And the ripple that they caused was deafening. For instance, BeirutSpring, a renowned Lebanese blogger who doesn’t address all issues that happen in Lebanon and when he does, he addresses the issue with one short and straight to the point post, wrote not once (click here) but twice (click here) about Leila. That second post has a ton of comments, some of which are proclaiming exactly what I alluded to before. Treason and then treason and then treason some more.

The BDS people should be proud. Commenting from their awesome new Macbook.

Another controversy:

We might also be the only country in the world where enforcing a smoking ban is met with a wave of anger and disgrace and people throwing around brilliant logic to justify opposing the ban. You want a taste of that logic? Click here.

Has any other country in the world caused so much controversy by simply applying a law straight out of the 1980s in 2012? Definitely not.

But in Lebanon it did. A smoking ban became an issue of national debate even though it shouldn’t. Smoking somehow morphed into a basic human right, which it isn’t. Some restaurants are even opting not to follow the law – and they’re proud of it (click here).

Some people have said: “the smoking ban supporters preach. The restaurant owners speak facts. The former need to rest their case – they’re not making sense.” Our need for controversy transcends our ability for logical reasoning. So we go with the flow of beautiful rhetoric that pleases our brain cortices and tickles our enthusiasm. Scientific studies? The hell with that. For reference, this is a British case study that shows a positive economic impact for smoking bans (click here).

Previous controversies:

The Lebanese Olympic squad and its Israel-related incident may or may not have happened. But it sure has caused a frenzy. I even asked this simple question: wouldn’t it be a greater victory if we play and win? Wouldn’t it be greater if we debate them and put them where they belong?

All hell broke loose. Because expressing your opinion is frowned upon – unless your opinion is mainstream. Getting called a traitor? It’s become my favorite pastime lately.

The Republic of Cheap Controversy:

When you realize that two of those controversies happened within a week and the third one happened within a month of the other two, you get three national “debates” that have led nowhere except have people go at each other’s throats in such a short timeframe. That’s also without taking into consideration Michel Samaha, the Mekdads or Myriam Klink or anything else that happened in the past couple of months. The republic of cheap controversy unfolds in front of you.

It’s not a republic of shame as LBC wants you to believe. It’s not the republic of anarchy as I’ve told you before (here). It’s another face of Lebanon, one that we don’t notice because it has become so deeply engrained in the fabrics of our society that we don’t notice it anymore – we don’t even notice how often we do it.

Our controversies address deep issues sometimes but more often than not they simply scrap the surface of far deeper problems without diving in. We live off of that – discussions that give us something to talk about while steering clear from more “pressing” issues (the election law comes to mind). Sometimes the discussion is cheap and shallow. Other times, the “discussion” takes a dangerous turn when the allegiance of others and their moral values come into play.

And people are interested in reading and talking about it because it gives them a sense of participating. And we write about it because it makes us feel important – that we are heard and some people want to know what we have to say. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

When will the next controversy take place? I would say it’s a 50-50 chance for next week. Do we love it? Maybe not. Welcome to the Republic of Cheap Controversy.

 

Lebanon’s “Weakness” To Israel

Should this cause national panic?
Disclaimer: I obviously didn’t take this picture nor was I part of the concert.

When the Lebanese judo team at the Olympics found itself within eyesight of the Israeli team, they refused to proceed with their practice. They refused to be seen by the Israelis. They refused to practice with them looking at us. The organizers ended up erecting a separator between both teams.

This isn’t the first time something like this happens.

When a former Lebanese beauty queen had her picture taken with an Israeli contestant at some international pageant, she was sentenced to prison back at home. How could she take that picture? How could she be that disgraceful to her country? How could she be so tactless to all the martyrs that died fighting the big bad zionists?

The picture is not just a picture.

Whenever both countries find themselves within the same competition, such as the Olympics, there’s a constant worry for Lebanese contestants to somehow end up against Israelis. Why so? Because they would be required by some law, I suppose, to forfeit their game and be eliminated – regardless of all the hard work they had put in to get to where they are.

As for the Israelis, they simply don’t care. They proceed as if the Lebanese is like any other nationality: a contestant they want to beat at the sports at hand. And the sad realization is that they always win and it’s always undeserved because of us forfeiting.

When I was in Spain last year, we had a girl with an Israeli flag come up to us and talk with a Lebanese dialect: “fiye etsawwar ma3kon?” (Can I take a picture with you?).

We vehemently refused. I was part of a group and there was a sense of urgency and even slight worry in how my group wanted to leave that place and get away from those Israelis as fast as we could. I remember how my heart raced as I was pushed away as fast as possible from that square in Madrid.

One person from our group looked behind and he saw that Israeli trying to take a picture with us and the Lebanese flag in the background. So he ran over and stopped her. What if that picture ended up on Facebook, that person later said, we’d all face havoc back home.

And it’s precisely that – why is it that WE have to be the ones that forfeit their sports games? Why is that WE have to be the ones to throw a tantrum for being inside the same gym as Israelis? Why is it that WE have to be the ones worrying about being in the same picture with an Israeli flag even if we didn’t mean to? Why is it that WE have to be the ones leaving touristic sites? Why is that WE have to always be on the losing end?

Why is that THEY always win? Why is it that THEY never forfeit? Why is that THEY don’t worry about being in the same gym as us? Why is it that THEY have the audacity to ask for pictures with us without worry? Why is it that THEY get to get us to worry about something so meaningless such as being in the same premises?

It’s simply because if we were in any of those scenarios, we’d end up being labeled as traitors. The problem is entirely psychological – and this is Lebanon’s main weakness towards Israel. We may be able to beat them militarily, albeit with heavy costs. But when it comes to almost everything else, we don’t own up to it and we falter.

It’s not our fault. It’s the fault of the state of governance that instilled this fear in us. The fear of them and the fear of retribution back home. Is this fear justified? Should we really always worry if an Israeli spoke to us on Facebook or Twitter or any form of platform?

Did you even know that they are closely observing us and making studies out of our social media behavior? Why are they so unfazed by us?

The law tells us yes. Don’t do it. Don’t address them. Don’t talk to them. Don’t get near them. The law tells me to stay away from anyone like that when I go to France next week.

But I have to ask – wouldn’t it be great, for instance, if the Lebanese judo team – instead of forfeiting – kicked those Israeli’s asses and won fair and square? Wouldn’t it be great if we were able to tell those Israelis a few words in a political debate that would put them where they belonged?

Wouldn’t we feel pride and maybe lift our heads a little higher instead of always having our tail between our legs as we walk away from metaphoric battles?

I quote J.K. Rowling who said: “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.” And when it comes to Israel, this is the perfect sum up of our situation as Lebanese. Isn’t this the time to stop being afraid?

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.