Arabs Make Historic Impression at the Rio Olympics
BY: Andrew Hansen/Contributing Writer
Since Friday, as the world turned its attention to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for the 2016 Summer Olympics, audiences have been able to witness historic Arab participation in the games. After months of anticipation for Brazil’s first appearance as an Olympic host, the world watched as the country came together to perform a beautiful and historic Opening Ceremony.
Despite a few setbacks, the city of Rio has put an extraordinary amount of effort into building incredible stadiums to accommodate the best sporting events mankind has ever seen. The games are a first for many people from around the world, but this year, Arabs in particular are getting plenty of attention. From the Opening Ceremony to the games themselves, Rio 2016 has made an impact on Arabs everywhere.
The following moments are indicators of historic, and even unprecedented, Arab participation in the Olympics.
1) Problems in Brazil
Image Source: Huffington Post
As opposed to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London that were launched with relative ease, the planning of this year’s Olympics have experienced a number of setbacks due to less than favorable conditions in the Brazilian city. With a combination of financial difficulties, security concerns, reports of water contamination, and not to mention the Zika Virus, the International Olympic Committee had heavy doubts on whether this year’s games in Rio would be a success.
Because of these setbacks, Brazilian government officials declared a “public state of calamity” in Rio just days before the Opening Ceremonies.
Contributing to the calamity is Brazil’s current political controversy with interim President Michel Temer, an Arab Brazilian. Formerly the Vice President to President Dilma Rousseff, Temer became interim president following her impeachment and has since then failed to come to terms with the Brazilian people. This was very apparent when Temer was skipped over during the Olympic Introduction, where the host country’s president usually says the first words. When he finally did speak, Temer was met with boos and jeers by the Brazilian crowds.
Regardless of controversy, the international Arab community has never before seen an Arab presiding over an honorable event like the Olympics.
2) Hoda Kotb: NBC’s Favorite Arab American Host
Hosting the Opening Ceremony for the Americans was Hoda Kotb, an Egyptian American and host of the popular NBC segment, The Today Show. Kotb is a seasoned veteran when it comes to coverage of the Olympic Games. Bringing a humorous flare and lively attitude towards the Opening Ceremony, Hoda used her broadcasting talents to cast the spotlight on disempowered countries, including many Arab countries.
In a follow-up episode on The Today Show, Kotb interviewed Pita Taufatofua, the Tongan flag bearer who captured the hearts and minds of millions around the world in the Opening Ceremonies. During the announcement of the Egyptian delegation, Kotb took pride in the birthplace of her parents.
3) Brazil’s Middle Eastern Population
Image Source: sports-961.com
According to statistics, Brazil possesses about 10 million Arabs in their unique ethnic makeup, the majority of them coming from Lebanon. This number signifies the highest concentration of Arabs outside of the Middle East, focused mainly in Sao Paolo, Brazil’s largest city. According to former Sao Paolo state governor Geraldo Alckmin, “Assimilation and integration have been so strong that sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to know who in this country is of Arab descent and who is not.”
This sentiment of inclusion of Brazil’s Arab population may be one of the main proponents of why Arabs were given the spotlight in this year’s Opening Ceremony during a segment on immigration to Brazil.
Perhaps, if the Olympics keep up the momentum of encouraging inclusion of Arabs, countries like America would have a valuable lesson to take away from the event.
4) Largest Palestinian Delegation to Ever Attend Olympics
Image source: IMEMCnews
One positive part of the Opening Ceremony was seeing the largest Palestinian team to ever compete in the Olympics. While Palestine has been increasing efforts in their bid for statehood, asserting a presence in international forums like the Olympics is vital to the cause and shows the Palestinian people’s cry for acceptance of their national identity.
Six athletes are representing Palestine this year in high profile events, such as swimming and track and field. Palestinian athletes are also competing in judo and dressage riding. Although Israel did not allow one member of Team Palestine out of Gaza to attend the Olympics, the athletes are using this opportunity to show the world that they are people that matter.
According to Christian Zimmerman, the Palestinian dressage rider competing this year, Palestinian Olympians “want to prove that we are an independent entity and that we are represented in the international scene even if on a small scale.”
5) Arab Women Get the Spotlight
Image Source: Midanmasr
Arab women are also receiving widespread attention in the Olympics this year, with an astounding amount of female athletes competing on behalf of Arab countries such as Egypt, UAE, Lebanon, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. In the Opening Ceremonies, there was a special emphasis on female athletes from Arab countries who were leading the teams and holding their country’s flag, which is a great honor.
In Rio, female representation has been unparalleled, signaling massive gains for Arab women. Egypt sent the most female athletes out of the Arab countries, 37 women in total, while Saudi Arabia doubled its numbers of women being sent to the games from 2 to 4.
From Lebanon, Ray Bassil was ranked number 1 in women’s trap shooting, a symbol of pride for her country, as well as the Arab world. Even though she did not progress to the final round, many see the recognition of her ability as a step towards Arab inclusion on the world stage.
6) Refugee Team
Image Source: UNRefugees.org
Another positive aspect of the Olympics that has captivated audiences is the Olympic Refugee Team. The International Olympic Committee and refugees hope that this team’s presence will sprout more attention to the refugee crisis happening in the Arab world and elsewhere.
With ten refugees competing from four different countries, the athletes have pledged to inspire people across all countries to bring awareness to the hardships refugees are currently facing, and hopefully a solution. Runners from Sudan, swimmers from Syria, and athletes from Ethiopia and the Congo, the spotlight will certainly be focused on these refugee athletes in Rio, this year.
Impressing everyone over the weekend was Syrian refugee swimmer Yusra Mardini who won her first heat. Unfortunately, she did not advance further, but she has brought immense pride to the dispersed Syrian population.