Emirati Olympian Saud Al Zaabi backs Tokyo 2020 postponement

Middle distance athlete believes year-long delay will open opportunities

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UAE Olympian Saud Al Zaabi has welcomed the International Olympic Committee and Japan’s decision to postpone the Tokyo 2020 Games.

Middle distance runner Al Zaabi, who took part in the 1,500m race at the Rio 2016 Olympics courtesy of a wild card, had been hoping to secure a qualifying time for Tokyo before June.

But with the current global sports hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 31-year-old Emirati was unsure he would get the chance to compete in any of his pre-scheduled races.

"I think it is not bad to postpone the Tokyo Olympics to 2021 because some athletes did not get a qualification time and with the current coronavirus crisis there is a complete stop for both the qualified and unqualified athletes," Al Zaabi told The National.

After the Rio Games, Al Zaabi was part of a special programme devised by the UAE Athletics Federation to help prepare him for Tokyo, but political upheaval within the federation led to the abrupt halt of the plan, and saw the runner step out independently, funding his own training and travel.

A recent regime change in the federation could potentially lead to reconciliation between the runner and the governing body.

“For me personally, it is an excellent opportunity because now I will have enough time to return to the federation and the clubs and work with them to get proper training and travel for camps so I can get a qualifying time,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Egyptian tennis player Mohamed Safwat is choosing to look at the positive side of these unprecedented circumstances.

Safwat, 29, who secured a spot for Tokyo 2020 when he clinched the gold medal at the African Games last August, was looking forward to becoming the first Egyptian man to represent his nation at an Olympic Games.

The world No 131 has been in great form this year, and lifted his maiden Challenger trophy last month.

“I think the decision to postpone was the best thing for everyone, in terms of the health of the athletes, the fans, the organisers and everyone,” said Safwat.


“The postponement is also good because it gives athletes better time to prepare because if it was going to be held in July, and we’re all quarantined until at least May or June, there wouldn’t have been enough time for the athletes to get ready for it. I think this gives a fair chance to everyone to be prepared.

“No one expected this and no one saw this coming. It’s threatening all of humanity, so it’s bigger than sport. As athletes, we are always travelling from one place to another so we are at risk, and it’s tough also for us.”

Qualification rules mandated that Safwat maintain a top-300 ranking by June 8, 2020, in order to participate in the Tokyo Olympics.

Now with the Games postponed, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said “it’s too early to say what impact the postponement will have on eligibility, but we’re working through the implications with the IOC and the IPC and will update in due course”.

“I have no idea what will happen with qualification but that’s not bothering me that much, if I did it once, I can do it again,” said Safwat.

“For me, I feel that these, sort of, forced stops that happen is life’s way of urging me to hit pause and reflect and see what I could have done better, what I need to improve.

"It gives me more time to prepare and improve for the Olympics. I see it as gaining an extra year. It’s a pity, yes, but I’m trying to use the time as much as I can. It’s tough with the enforced curfew here in Egypt and restrictions and stuff, but I try to look and reflect on things, then I’ll put a plan and try to start working on it as soon as possible.

“With the forced stops I had this year and in the pre-season, I started to believe that sometimes there is a bigger plan, we don’t know what it is now but we’ll know later on.”