UAE sprinters challenge perception that Arabs don’t play sport

Emirati medal winners say they are training hard because they want to better their performances

Emirati sprinter and gold medalist Hamda Al Hosani has won 15 medals in Special Olympic games and represented the UAE in the Mena games this year. Courtesy Hamda Al Hosani
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UAE athletes are not only training to boost their performance and compete for medals, but members of the athletics team say they are also keen on changing perceptions about sportspeople from the Arab world.

"Many people think people from the Arab world don't play sport. In the UAE, we want to show other countries what we can do. I want my country to have athletes like in Europe. They train very hard. I also want to train more and become better," said sprinter Hamda Al Hosani.

Competing in international events has shown Emirati athletes how exacting sessions can be.

“All countries like Bahrain, Tunisia, Morocco train well. America and Europe are very, very good in training,” the 27-year-old said.

A photograph of Ms Al Hosani crouching at the start of a sprint race has been carried in national newspapers with the line: ‘Winning 12 gold medals that takes real determination.’

The 100 and 200-metre runner believes in spreading the word among her teammates that their larger goal should be to keep a close eye on their timing so they can build-up their performance through to the Special Olympics World Games that will be held in Abu Dhabi next year.

It will be the first time that the mega event will be hosted in the region.

Medals are important but striving to push their personal bar higher is also key for the athletes with intellectual disabilities.

“I don’t only think of the medals. I like to think about the race and my time. I want to make it better and better,” Ms Al Hosani said.

“In athletics people always think of medals. You must also think of why you play the game.”

Sport has helped her handle her condition of epilepsy.

“Before I started running long ago, the epilepsy was more. When I keep running, I feel I’m stopping it.”


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As preparation for the Mena games, the athletes have been gearing up with twice-daily training.

“I want to do well. If you love something, you will not feel tired. I think of why we are coming here and I want to become faster,” she said.

There are some athletes she views as competition in the Mena region, but Ms Al Hosani is still keen to see them again.

“There are two girls who are fast. But I’m happy to see them. I want to see them again in my own country,” she said.

Expressing her thoughts clearly, Ms Al Hosani helpfully translates the Arabic conversations of her fellow sprinters.

“He takes gold with me,” she said pointing to fellow sprinter Khaled Al Hajari, who also competes in long jump and shot put.

“I want gold medals. I want a medal for the UAE, for my president,” Mr Al Hajari chipped in.

Support from the government in identifying athletes and providing training sessions in clubs has gone a long way.

“Our president gives us everything we need. He says, ‘You can do it. You can do everything. Don’t say you can’t do things. Be strong.’ So I’m happy and I want to work hard,” Ms Al Hosani said.

The companionship and trust that binds the athletes as a unit is apparent along with the deep-rooted affection of the trainers.

Being with other athletes at the training camps helped mentally prepare them for the Games, said Nadia Messiidi, UAE national athletics coach.

“There are some who grasp more than others like Hamda so we ask her to explain to them. They trust each other,” she said.

More than 1,000 athletes from 31 countries will take part in the Games which officially begin on Sunday.

The Games in Abu Dhabi will register a record number of women participants with as high as 40 per cent of female athletes in the contingents.

Some 429 female athletes and 168 female trainers will take part in 16 sports during the week-long games.

The UAE team comprises of 180 athletes with 64 women. Women will participate across sports including athletics, swimming, badminton, basketball, bocce, bowling, cycling, equestrian, football, gymnastics, power lifting, tennis, table tennis, roller skating, handball and volleyball.

Basketball registered the highest number of 90 women athletes, followed by athletics with 70 women competitors, swimming came in at third place with 44 females and badminton with 32.

In earlier games such as the 2010 regional Special Olympics in Damascus there were 305 female players, followed by 215 female players who participated in the 2014 games in Cairo.