KUWAIT CITY, Aug 1: Kuwaiti athletes have expressed their profound dismay at having to compete in Rio de Janeiro as Independent Olympic Athletes following Kuwait’s suspension by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in a new documentary directed by Balsam Al-Ayoub and produced by Faisal Dwaisan.
In ‘Between Hope and Pain’, one referee and nine athletes openly express their immense drive to compete and win, and the supreme disappointment of being unable to do so under the Kuwaiti ﬂag. In the documentary, privately screened at Laila Cinema on Sunday evening, Kuwaiti shooter and Olympic champion, Fehaid Al-Deehani spoke candidly about his dilemma to participate in the upcoming games. He shared that the Olympics ceased to hold meaning for him as he would not be able to leave his mark as a Kuwaiti athlete but only as an independent player, without a country and a ﬂag.
“It’s the ﬁrst time in my life I have experienced something like this. It’s true that we were banned in 2012 but a week before the competition HH the Amir solved the problem and removed the ban and we participated. But in this incident, we feel lost, we don’t know what’s up ahead”, he remarked. He stated that no resolution seemed to be forthcoming from either the government or the Olympic committee and he chalked this down to a clash of egos. He was honest and critical of the state of sports in the country, saying, “Sports in Kuwait has always experienced obstacles, it has always been sterile, lacking. It has never been proper. Even during the golden age, the football era, it wasn’t proper. It was progressing by God’s grace but there was no strategy. Up until now we represent the country with training suits worth KD 3 while other national teams employ fashion designers.” He shared that he was pained at the loss of the future of many athletes because of conﬂicts over positions and called for those responsible to tender their resignations.
Kuwaiti fencer, sports activist and Director of the documentary, Balsam Al Ayoub regards Kuwait’s third ban from the IOC since 2007 as the ﬁnal shock, “History is repeating itself. As an athlete myself, I can relate to the struggle and pain of the nine athletes as they face the outcome of the ban.” “These athletes are working tirelessly to being represent and bring honour to their nation, they are heroes of the country. I appreciate the work the government is doing and the efforts exerted by the National Assembly and its Speaker Marzouq AlGhanim and Sheikh Salman Sabah Al-Salem AlHomoud Al-Sabah, Minister of Information and Minister of State for Youth Affairs in Kuwait and and Sheikh Ahmad Mansour Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah, Head of Kuwait’s Public Authority for Youth and Sports. But I think it is time for all the stakeholders to come together resolve this issue once and for all. We are not looking for a temporary solutions, we have been in this predicament for six years now.”
She stressed that this was not the time to cast blame but to work together in a democratic manner, with all viewpoints brought to the table. In the documentary, other Kuwaiti athletes expounded on the time and effort that they had devoted to sport and the personal sacriﬁces they had each made to reach their goals while narrating the arduous journey of qualifying for the Olympics Shooter Abdulrahman Al-Faihan, spoke of his experience qualifying through the Asian Olympic Qualifying Competition held in New Delhi, India in Jan 2015.
“We’d been banned so they had refused us entry because we refused to participate under the Olympic flag. As a player I can’t avoid competition that would qualify me for Olympic positions so a group of four Kuwaiti shooters who had not yet qualified for the Olympics were forced to finance our own participation.” He shared that when the group reached out to the organizing committee in the championship, they were welcomed to participate. “We encountered some protests, rejection, push and pull. For almost a month, we were left hanging”, he revealed.
But even as they faced anxiety on account of the uncertainty of being allowed to participate, the group was adamant and even paid for their own tickets, training accommodation and other expenses. Al-Faihan went on to win the gold medal and secure his qualifying seat. Khaled Al-Mudhaf shared that the ban occurred a month after he had qualified for the Olympics and he was depressed on hearing the news. “For two years I have done nothing but practice just so that I can accomplish this goal. So when I finally achieve it, I find it dismantled? This is among the biggest disappointments of my life.” Saud Habib Al-Kandari, echoed similar sentiments, “What good is participating without a flag? I won’t matter, even if I did participate and win and take the first place. If the flag is not raised and the anthem is not played, it is meaningless.” Abdullah Al-Rasheedi pointed out that the upcoming games was his last chance to participate at the Olympics on account of his age and he hopes to win a medal, “This is going to be my last contribution. I beseech those in charge to support us so we can give back to our country.”
He also shared the IOC had called him and offered training suits, T-shirts and shoes and a ticket to participate in the Olympics, “But I think that this support should be for refugees”. Abbas Qali shared that it had been his dream to raise the Kuwaiti flag at the Olympic games and he sees the ban as an injustice committed against all the Kuwaiti athletes. He has mixed feelings on being called and asked to represent the IOC, he explained, “Those who represent the IOC are considered political refugees like countries in the midst of war or poor countries that cannot afford to pay the necessary dues.” Kuwaiti swimmer Yousuf Al-Askary who had qualified in Oct 2015 after achieving the required time in the Asian championship in Thailand is banned from participating in and travelling to Brazil for an undisclosed reason. “Whether I go or not, it won’t mean anything to me. I’m over it.” All eight participating athletes from the State of Kuwait have paid for their plane tickets to Brazil. Fencer Abdulaziz AlShatti shared that despite all of the negativity, every Kuwaiti player continues to sacrifice and remain somewhat hopeful for a successful Olympic outing. Director Al-Ayoub also believes that the present hardship can be a driver and a tool for the athletes to win. Al-Deehani has refused to carry the Olympic neutral team flag at the Rio Games opening ceremony, where the Gulf state’s athletes cannot march behind their own emblem.
Kuwait is suspended by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and other leading federations such as FIFA, football’s world body, over government interference in sport. Despite last-minute calls for dialogue to get the Kuwait government to make a concession, Al-Deehani, winner of Kuwait’s only Olympic medals, and seven other athletes are resigned to having to compete in Rio as so-called Independent Olympic Athletes. According to Kuwaiti media, the IOC asked Al-Deehani, who took trap shooting bronze medals at the 2000 Sydney and 2012 London Games, to carry the Olympic neutral team flag. But the Kuwait army officer turned down the request. “I am a military man and I will only carry the Kuwait flag,” he said. “I cannot carry the IOC flag.” The IOC and FIFA have now suspended Kuwait three times since 2007 over government interference.
The Kuwait Olympic Committee on Sunday called on the government to start dialogue in a last-gasp bid to get the Kuwait flag in to the Rio opening ceremony. Hussein Al-Mussallam, vice chairman of the committee’s legal and international relations commission, told AFP it was time “to sit down together and review things in a positive way”. He said “the interests of Kuwaiti athletes should come above all else”. “I am speaking on behalf of the KOC and not in the name of international organizations,” Al-Mussallam added. “The time has come in front of everyone, the Kuwaiti government and the ministry for youth and sports, the Kuwait Olympic Committee and the Olympic Movement Kuwait to sit together for the national interest and for Kuwait to return as it was.” Al-Mussallam also appealed for all sides to “stay away from personal issues”. “The Olympic movement has a role to deal with the government in the interest of sport. The government has to hear the point of view of international organizations and the United Nations and the opinion of the Kuwaiti Olympic movement.” The official said that Kuwaiti athletes want to compete in Rio “under the flag of our country, so and we demand the sports minister respond to the advice of the International Olympic Committee and to stop the implementation of the conflicting articles in the Kuwaiti sports law”.
By Cinatra Fernandes Arab Times Staff and Agencies