I was watching an Olympic TV show when I was stunned by the sight of two and three-year-old Chinese children doing push ups, sit ups and handstands and walking around a room upside down. I have seen a European private school for one-year -olds who are taught to swim and breathe underwater. Excessive? Perhaps. But it shows the interest, dedication, passion and investment Asians, Europeans and especially Americans have in sports and competition. These are concept aliens to most Arabs.
Since 1928, Arab athletes have collected a grand total of 75 Olympic medals. That’s one less than Brazil alone. To put things in perspective, the US has collected in the same period 2188 medals out of which 894 were gold and 692 silver. Of the Arab total, only 20 were gold and 8 were silver. Pathetic considering that the 380 million Arabs outnumber the US by about 100 million.
I am big fan of the Olympics but that’s because I am big fan of sports. The other millions that watch the Olympics have the additional incentive of rooting for their countrymen and women. Arabs have little to cheer about except for the occasional surprise and exciting athlete or two.
During the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Ahmed Al-Maktoum brought in the first ever Gold for the UAE in the Shooting-Double trap competition. Karam Gaber of Egypt earned a gold medal in wrestling and Hesham El-Karoug of Morocco became an international star for his golden performance in the 1500 m and 5000 m track and field competitions.
Poor Arab achievements at the Olympics speak volumes for the investments and emphasis on sports, PE, talent scouting, training and equipment in the Arab region. Here schools and universities don’t have a sports and competition culture that their US, European and Asian counterparts do possess. While International schools in the region do place an emphasis on competitive sports and physical education, PE teachers in many private and public schools are at the bottom scale in terms of importance versus other teachers. There is no Darwinian evolutionary explanation for why we falter in sporting events. We are neither physically nor mentally inferior as athletes. We are just almost never given a chance to shine. Until the talents of our national athletes are identified, encouraged and harnessed starting as early as the KG, Arab athletes will bottom feed for Olympic scraps while the rest of the world basks in glory.