By: Ibrahim Shukralla
DUBAI, 20th March 2019 (WAM) – Among the 190 nations and 7,500 athletes who participated at the Special Olympics World Games in Abu Dhabi, an international event that has always been about inspirational stories of determination, there was a forgotten story of one country and its four athletes: Yemen.
The last time Yemen participated at the Special Olympics World Games was 10 years ago in Idaho, United States. The Yemeni delegation in Idaho in 2009 was 70-strong, while the delegation here was 61 members smaller, at only nine, four of whom are athletes: Mohsen Qasem, Aidaros Mohammad, Ekram Sallam and Nemah Khalid.
The Yemeni delegation in Idaho in 2009 was 70-strong. The delegation here was 61 members smaller, at only nine, four of whom are athletes: Mohsen Qasem, Aidaros Mohammad, Ekram Sallam and Nemah Khalid.
These athletes, all based in Aden, have achieved a total of five medals, two golds, one silver and two bronzes.
“I was always telling myself, ‘There are nations that outnumber us, they are better prepared and have better facilities and tools. Therefore, there’s no chance for us to achieve anything,’ ” Abdul Satar Al Hamadani, Head of the Yemeni delegation tells the Emirates News Agency, WAM.
“Participating at this competition in wartime and achieving that is 300% more than what we have expected.”
The Yemeni team faced many hardships before the competition, including training on a small school-field due to the lack of funds and infrastructure, an 18-hour flight from Aden to Cairo then to Dubai, insufficient clothes for the athletes and lack of transportation.
“Because of war in Yemen and the displacement of many businessmen, the chance of getting a sponsor was difficult. I had to buy from my own pocket enough clothes for the athletes, rent a small school-field for training, which is quite different to the stadiums here, and arrange transportation,” Al Hamadani, who is also President of the Yemeni Basketball Association, explains.
“Just imagine that we arrived at Cairo International Airport and Mohsen (who has won one gold and one bronze medal) had not yet got his visa to enter the UAE. I already had a plan in place, which was to stay with him in Cairo until he gets it, even if that took one or two days. Luckily, while waiting for our flight to Dubai, I got the confirmation email. The authorities in the UAE were very helpful and understanding.
“The whole staff from the doctor to the administrator and coaches have volunteered to be part of the delegation; they are not getting paid anything. We have done all of this because there are people who deserve to live, our athletes deserve that,” Al Hamadani adds.
Just one week before the competition started, while the delegation still lacked funds for tickets and accommodation, the UAE government confirmed that it would help. That was, according to Samar Abdullah, one of the team’s coaches, “the reason why we are here.”
“The support we received from the UAE is the reason why we are here. One week before the Olympics, it wasn’t clear if we were participating or not, but when we got the news (that the UAE would help with accommodation and tickets) and the competition was just around the corner, we had to work hard every day, even on our days off, to make it happen,” Samar says.
Talking about the reaction of the families, relatives and friends of the athletes after they knew the results, Samar says, “Everybody was so happy. For example when the family of Ekram (who won one bronze medal) saw her pictures wearing the medal, they started screaming and ululating! As for Mohsen, who was born in the UAE, he has some relatives living in Al Ain, so they came and supported him in the stands, and gave him gifts and flowers.”
The other coach of the team is Najah Sallam, Ekram’s sister, and she explains how their family was delighted with this success. “Everybody in the family was supportive of her. They were telling her how lucky she was to be going to the UAE,” she says.
“At the beginning she refused to participate because she had an injury in her legs, but we kept telling her that she could make it.
“Even our neighbours and family friends who knew about the results sent her voice notes congratulating her. It was great,” Najah adds.
Nemah, who won a silver medal, says that she cannot wait to go back to Aden to celebrate her success with her family. “When my family knew about my results, they told me when I come back to Aden, they will celebrate with me. I’m excited to go back I want to participate in more competitions. I’m really happy,” she explains while smiling.
As the competition ended yesterday and the closing ceremony will be held today, members of the delegation will go back to their normal lives, Mohsen to his job with his brother in a small grocery shop in Aden, Ekram to her pursuit of learning English.
But what they all hope for is that the next time the Special Olympics is held, Yemen would be more stabilised and peacful.
“I hope the situation in Yemen becomes better. We need to support our People of Determination, we need a better environment to work in. I’m sure Yemen is proud of us. What we have achieved here is exceptional,” Najah says.
Samar concludes, “I hope the next time we participate at the Special Olympics, Yemen would be more stabilised. As a coach, I’m proud of what the players have done, but we also need to look at the future.”
[Photo caption: From the left, Nemah Khalid, Mohsen Qasem, Aidaros Mohammad, Ekram Sallam]