Egypt celebrates the centenary of its history in the Games, reports Ghada Abdel-Kader
The centennial of the Egyptian Olympic Committee (1910- 2010) was marked in style on Saturday. It started with show jumping by the top Egyptian riders at the Equestrian Club in Giza. Rider Gamal El-Harres, 86, amazed spectators with an outstanding performance. A documentary film about the history of equestrianship in Egypt was another highlight.
Present was President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Jacques Rogge, President of the National Sports Council (NSC) Hassan Sakr, President of the Egyptian Olympic Committee (EOC) Mahmoud Ahmed Ali, President of the Egyptian Equestrian Federation Hisham Hattab, President of the Equestrian Club Shahinaz El-Naggar, members of the IOC executive board, several presidents of Arab NOCs, international and continental federations, members of the Mediterranean Games executive board, and media figures.
Rogge, Sakr and Ali were the masters of ceremony.
In the evening, a cocktail reception was planned in the open at the Pyramids but bad weather -- a dust storm and the cold -- forced the reception to be moved to the Mena House Oberoi Hotel. Ali gave an honorary address welcoming the guests who included Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, as well as the ministers of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Military Production, Communication and Transportation, in addition to Secretary-General of the Qatar Olympic Committee Sheikh Saud bin Abdel-Rahman Al-Thani, and members of Egyptian federations. The party began with a ballet performance given by the Cairo Opera House
"We are looking forward to promoting mutual sports cooperation between the International Olympic Committee and national Olympic committees of the world to achieve the core values of the Olympic concept," Nazif said. "Sport serves in the development and progression of all communities and encourages building communities enjoying peace.
"Egypt is keen to preserve the independence of sports organisations. It has its own policies and strategies in promoting Egyptian sports.
"I am hoping that one day Egypt will host the Olympic Games. Egypt has the capacity to do this.
"Everyone is optimistic about Egypt's ability to organise this big sports event," Rogge added.
President of the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation Mahmoud Shoukri, a member of the NOC Centenary Commission, told Al-Ahram Weekly that it took more than six months to prepare for the celebration.
"The centenary committee was formed after the election of the new board members of the EOC," Shoukri said. The commission, headed by EOC Vice-President Ahmed Mohamed Fouli, achieved a lot, Shoukri added, but because Fouli was busy in work-related travelling, the committee had to be headed by EOC President Ali.
"The committee believed the centenary celebration should be sports related. After a long debate it opted for an equestrian show, which is linked to Egypt's history and civilisation. We have a long history in horseback riding. Second, the sport is rare on the African continent. We barely have three or four countries which plays it," Shoukri added.
Egypt's NOC published an illustrated encyclopedia titled 'The Egyptian Olympic Committee During 100 Years' and will make a documentary with the same name. It has also issued a stamp, and gold and silver coins with the logo of the EOC centenary.
During the ceremony, Nazif, Rogge and Ali gave out special awards to all the ex-presidents of Egypt's NOC starting from 1910. Those recognised included Egyptian Olympian champions who won medals in Amsterdam 1928, Berlin 1936, London 1948, Helsinki 1952, Rome 1960, Los Angeles 1984, Athens 2004, and Beijing 2008. Also honoured were IOC members from Egypt and the chefs de mission of the Egyptian delegations which participated in the Olympic, African, Arab and Mediterranean Games.
Mohamed Ali (not the one the world knows) won a silver medal in boxing in the 2004 Athens Olympics. "It was big honor to be honored in the centennial," said Ali, a champion in his own right.
In taekwondo, when it was a spectator sport, Omar Khairi won a silver medal in Seoul and a bronze medal in Barcelona. "As time passes, you think people forget what you've achieved but it was a big surprise that they still remember," Khairi said. "I cannot express how much this honor means to me."
The handball team was singled out for winning a gold medal in the Singapore Youth Olympic Games held this year. Players Mustafa Khalil and Mohamed Ali were on the team. "This honour is very important for us," said Khalil. "It encourages us to move forward and achieve more."
The reception ended with a recital by the consummate pianist and composer Omar Khairat who charmed guests with his musical compositions.
Egypt in the Olympics Angelo Bolanaki, an Alexandrian, was the first athlete in Egypt to participate in international sport competitions outside the country. In 1903, Bolanaki went to Athens and Izmir in 100m sprints, winning both and thus was declared the best on three continents after six consecutive victories in one month in Alexandria, Izmir and Athens.
After retiring, Bolanaki established sports clubs in Egypt, the first being in Alexandria called the General Sport Club.
Bolanaki was appointed to the International Olympic Committee in June 1910. He established the Egyptian Olympic Committee in 1910 in Alexandria under the patronage of Khedive Abbas II. The committee included Prince Omar Toson as president, Amin Yehia Pasha as treasurer, Bolanaki as secretary-general and Ahmed Zawer pasha as a member. There were also representatives from Egyptian sports federations.
Egypt became only the 14th country to join the International Olympic Committee. Egypt's first foray in the Games was at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912, represented by just one athlete, Ahmed Hassanein, in fencing.
The Egyptian Olympic Committee has a solid Olympic history when compared to Africa and the rest of the Arab world, collecting 25 Olympic medals -- seven gold, seven silver and 11 bronze medals.