This year’s summer Olympics have given the Arab world much to talk about, with several controversies, and ups and downs. Here is a guide to what they’ve acheived:
Ahmad Abughaush secured Jordan a first Olympic medal when he won Taekwondo gold in the men's 68kg weight class. The 20-year-old student from Amman called it an “indescribable feeling” and was proud to hear the national anthem of Jordan being played in Rio “in front of the whole world”.
B - BAHRAIN
In Rio, Bahrain was one of 10 nations to win a first gold medal. Kenyan-born Ruth Jebet won the women’s 3,000m steeplechase while competing under the Kingdom’s flag. She was joined on the country’s medal list by Eunice Kirwa, also born in Kenya, who claimed silver in the women’s marathon.
C - CASA DO CATAR
Rio played host to 52 national houses during the Olympics, with some free entry and others invite-only. House of Qatar, showcasing Arab culture, food and Fifa World Cup 2022 plans, was the largest at 11,000sqm. Yet it still sold out within four days, making it the hottest ticket in town.
D - DRAW
Few observers gave Iraq any hope when the national soccer team was drawn in the same group as hosts Brazil, captained by Barcelona striker Neymar. Instead, the Lions of Mesopotamia battled for 90 minutes and secured a stalemate. Coach Abdelghani Al-Ghazali called it “a historic day for Iraqi football.”
E - EL GHOBASHY
Doaa El Ghobashy sparked a social media frenzy when Egypt made its beach volleyball debut. Dressed in long sleeves, pants and a hijab, it was a stark contrast to her German opponents’ skimpy bikinis. “I’ve worn the hijab for 10 years,” she said. “It doesn’t keep me away from the things I love to do.”
F - FEHAID AL DEEHANI
Fehaid Al-Deehani became the first person to win gold as an independent athlete. He won double trap shooting despite the Kuwait Olympic Committee being suspended for government interference. “That’s for the people who don't want us to participate in the Olympics,” he said. “I'm showing them we’re here and we got the medal.”
G - GOAL FOR PEACE
Twenty-two Arab and Jewish children travelled to Brazil from Jerusalem as part of the Goal for Peace project. As well as playing a series of short exhibition matches in a 43,000-capacity stadium, the delegation also visited the Brazilian FA, watched Olympic judo and built friendships despite the different languages and religions.
H - HANDSHAKE
Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was reprimanded and sent home by the Olympics governing body after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli opponent Or Sasson. The Salafi Muslim had come under pressure to withdraw from nationalist voices in Egypt before his first-round bout. Sasson said he had been warned to expect the snub.
I - INES and IBTIHAJ
Tunisian Ines Boubakri won Africa’s first women’s Olympic fencing medal, dedicating her bronze to “the Tunisian woman, the Arab woman ... who has her place in society”. While Boubakri claimed individual foil, Ibtihaj Muhammad of the USA took bronze in women’s team sabre, making history as the first American to compete in a hijab.
J - JORDAN
Even before Ahmad Abughaush secured Jordan’s first ever medal, the Hashemite Kingdom had enjoyed a successful Games. Two new national swimming records set by Talita and Khader Baqlah, a boxing quarter-final for Hussein Ishaiash and athletes competing for the first time in triathlon and judo must be seen as a positive step forward.
K - KARIMAN
Sprinter Kariman Abuljadayel made history in Rio when she became the first woman from Saudi Arabia to compete in the Olympic 100m. Dressed in a full-body covering and hijab, the 22-year-old finished seventh in her prelim heat with a time of 14.61 seconds, which proved to be 2.27s off the pace.
L - LEBANESE BUS
The Lebanese Olympic team refused to share a bus with representatives of Israel on route to the Opening Ceremony, prompting complaints from the Israeli team. Salim Al Haj Nicolas, the head of the Lebanese delegation, played down the incident, calling it “only a small problem” and insisting “we’re here only for sports”.
M - MARY AL ATRASH
Mary Al Atrash proved that even without proper facilities, reaching the Olympic Games is not impossible. The Palestinian swimmer who was given a wildcard to compete in 50m freestyle, had been forced to train in a 25m pool because Israeli occupation restricts her travel from the West Bank without training partners.
N - NATURALISATION
In the past five years, Bahrain have naturalised more athletes than any other country with 18 new citizens from Kenya and another 17 from Ethiopia. The Kingdom’s 35-strong delegation in Rio included Moroccans, Jamaicans, Russians and Nigerians. While Qatar paired a Brazilian with a Senegalese in beach-volley, UAE included Moldovan judokas and Ethiopian runners.
O - OSMAN
Egyptian swimmer Farida Osman did not manage to realise her goal of making a finals in either of her two events — 100m fly and 50m freestyle — but she still managed to better her African record. Her 24.91s in the 50m freestyle was 0.01s quicker than her previous record. “I know this is only the beginning for me,” she said.
P - PALESTINIAN EQUESTRIAN
German-born Christian Zimmermann became the first equestrian to represent Palestine at the Olympic Games. The 54-year-old, a descendant of German composer Robert Schumann who holds dual German and Palestinian citizenship, said he decided to ride for Palestine “as a gesture towards the Palestinian people”.
Q - QATAR
While much of Qatar’s medal hopes had been pinned on the men’s handball team — featuring hand-picked champions such as Montenegrin Zarko Markovic, Frenchman Bertrand Roine and Bosnian-Serb Danijel Saric — the country’s first medal arrived courtesy of Doha-born Mutaz Essa Barshim, who claimed silver in men’s high-jump. “My next target is gold,” he said.
R - ROSTAMI
Iranian Kianoush Rostami broke his own world record on route to securing gold in the -85kg weightlifting category. The 25-year-old operates without coaches, yet lifted a combined total of 396kg, including 217kg with his last attempt in the clean and jerk. “I’ve lifted 225 in training,” he said. “But that 217 was a challenge.”
S - SAUDI ARABIA
It was another disappointing month for Saudi Arabia, which has now competed in 10 Summer Games and won only one silver and two bronze medals. Thirteen athletes travelled, including a record four women, but not one came close to a podium. “What is the use of the sports institution if it is unable to make heroes?” asked Khalaf Al-Harbe in the Saudi Gazette.
T - TOMA
Sergiu Toma, a Moldova-born judoka representing the UAE, secured his adopted country its second ever medal taking bronze in the -81kg weight class. Toma, one of six Moldovans naturalised by the UAE ahead of the Games, dedicated the medal to “people from my country, Moldova; people from the UAE; and my coach.”
U - UAE
The Emirates proved their progressive outlook in selecting Nada Al Bedwawi, an 18 year-old swimmer, to be flag-bearer in the Opening Ceremony. A student at New York University Abu Dhabi, she said she hopes her involvement can inspire others: “I’m trying to break down barriers and pave the way for other Emirati female swimmers.”
V - VOLLEYBALL
During the men’s volleyball match between Egypt and Iran, Iranian activist Darya Safai protested a ban on her countrywomen watching sports events. Sat in front of the TV cameras, she unveiled a banner reading “Let Iranian women enter their stadiums.” She was asked to leave by security, but refused and was eventually allowed to stay.
W - WEIGHTLIFTING
Sara Ahmed became the first Egyptian female to win a medal in her country’s 104-year Olympic history. The 18-year-old weightlifter took bronze in the -69kg weight class, in turn becoming the first woman from an Arab country to win an Olympic medal in weightlifting. “A new generation can be born,” she said.
X - eXCEEDED eXPECTATIONS
The Rio Games proved the Arab World’s most successful to date, with eight Arab nations sharing 15 medals, six of which were claimed by women. Few people would have predicted such a haul during the opening ceremony and the hope is the green shoots of growth can continue to grow over the next four years.
Y - YUSRA MARDINI
For the first time, a team of Olympic refugees competed under the Games’ flag. Syria-born swimmers Yusra Mardini and Rami Anis were part of a 10-strong delegation that captured hearts. “A lot of things happened in our lives that were really bad,” said Mardini. “But you must remember life will not stop for you.”
Z - ZENOORIN
Kimia Alizadeh Zenoorin became the first Iranian woman to win an Olympic medal, taking bronze in the 57kg Taekwondo event. The 18-year-old told BBC she hoped she would return in four years time to take gold, adding “I thank God that I made history with my bronze to pave the way for other Iranian women.”