Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1325, (22 December 2016 - 4 January 2017)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1325, (22 December 2016 - 4 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Money made the medals

Egypt’s three medals in the Olympic Games were won largely on the back of huge financial support given the athletes but next year the well will be dry, Inas Mazhar reports

Egypt won a respectable three bronze medals in the Rio Olympics. But the end of the year saw the nation’s economic crisis hitting the sports industry, resulting in severe austerity measures that does not portend well for the future.

More than LE130 million was spent during 2016 to prepare Egyptian athletes for the world’s most prestigious sports event, the Olympic Games. And it was worth it after Egypt returned home from Rio with three bronze medals in weightlifting and taekwondo.


The first two bronze medals were won in weightlifting in the first week of the games, by Sara Samir in the 69kg weight category and Mohamed Ihab in 77kg. Egypt’s third bronze medal went to Hedaya Malak in taekwondo in the second week of the competition. It was an unprecedented achievement for Egypt and the region in taekwondo, the first time an Arab woman had won an Olympic medal in the sport.

Egypt finished in 75th place out of 207 participating nations in the medals standing in Rio. Only 89 countries won medals.

“This is an achievement in itself,” Egyptian National Olympic Committee President Hisham Hatab told Al-Ahram Weekly then. “Egypt had taken part in the Olympic Games with 120 male and female athletes. In addition to the three bronze medalists, there were also some remarkable achievements that nobody noticed or even cared to highlight. I personally received 18 certificates of appreciation from the International Olympic Committee for our athletes who won places from one to eight. They are among the best eight in the world and if the IOC recognises them, then why do we underestimate their achievements?”

Besides the three third-place finishes in Rio there was one fourth-place finish by Shaimaa Haridi in the 62kg weight category. Six athletes secured a fifth place finish including two weightlifters, Ahmed Saad (62kg) and Ragab Abdel-Hai (94kg) and Enas Khorsheid (free wrestling), Hossam Bakr (boxing) and Ahmed Qamar and Afaf Al-Hodhod (shooting).

Three athletes and two teams secured a seventh place finish, including judo’s Ramadan Darwish (100kg), taekwondo’s Gofran Zaki (68kg) and weightlifter Israa Ahmed (63kg). The men’s foil and synchronised swimming also claimed seventh place. All that was worth over LE10 million in total prize money.

But it was not all about the Olympic Games. Egyptian athletes won world titles and improved their world ranking especially in squash in which Egypt’s men and women continued to rule the world. Taekwondo, karate, shooting, modern pentathlon, swimming, judo, weightlifting, equestrian and sports for the handicapped notably improved. Much of that progress was due to the money allocated to the building up of these teams.


However, Egypt was rocked by an economic crisis towards the end of the year after the Egyptian pound was floated, hitting all sectors of the country. Sports was particularly hard hit regarding foreign currency. That meant that there will be no more dollars for Egyptian sports next year, a big blow to the sports industry which depends mainly on foreign currency.

The decisions included no more hiring of foreign coaches to train national teams and that payment to current coaches should be in Egyptian pounds, not dollars. No sports federation can sign up a foreign coach or renew a contract without the approval of the ministry. Current foreign coaches were, as of the beginning of November, to receive their salaries in Egyptian pounds according to the currency exchange rate set by the Central Bank of Egypt. However, the decision did not include Egypt’s Argentine football manager Hector Cuper and taekwondo’s Spanish head coach.

“The ministry has spent a lot of money during the past year and the years before for the sake of sports,” Minister of Youth and Sports Khaled Abdel-Aziz told Al-Ahram Weekly. “We provided Egyptian federations with whatever they needed and we allocated the budgets they asked for. The government was very generous with them and paid for everything. All the athletes who qualified for world championships and the Olympic Games had the chance to travel to their final destinations. We did not deny anyone who had earned a victory to participate in a championship abroad,” Abdel-Aziz added.

“But now we have no option. The federations should cooperate with us. The sports sector has been hit by the crisis just like everybody else and we need to cooperate, at least until things settle down. The government can’t bear it alone anymore.

“We are part of this nation and should also review our resources to be able to meet austerity measures that most of the sectors of the country are taking. We have excluded Mr Cuper from this decision because the Egyptian Football Association already has sponsors and resources that generate foreign currency to the EFA from which they can pay their head coach. They have always been paying their foreign coaches; the ministry has never paid anything to a foreign coach. The same will apply to sports clubs and federations if they have sponsors who can afford to pay.”

National teams will no longer have the luxury of holding training camps abroad. Instead, sports federations will use the nation’s sports facilities to train.

The decisions, taken in October after a meeting between Abdel-Aziz and the president of the National Olympic Committee Hisham Hatab, board member Sherif Al-Erian and executive director Mamdouh Shehstawi, also included reducing the Egyptian delegation scheduled to take part at the Islamic Solidarity Games scheduled in June 2017. It was decided that the national committee is to participate with only one individual sport to be selected by the board.

Egypt also suspended its participation in all Arab championships until the economic situation improves. Furthermore, sports federations were asked to reduce their representation in international federation meetings, conferences and congresses held abroad to only one representative instead of a whole delegation that used to comprise up to five officials.

The decisions are intended to remain in force until the end of the fiscal year 2016/2017.

Hatab said that the salaries of foreign coaches in Egypt cost sports federations $70,000 monthly. “We have foreign coaches in archery, athletics, shooting, rowing, basketball and boxing and in the middle of this economic crisis this sum of money is huge,” he said, adding that the NOC addressed these federations who will notify their foreign coaches that payment in Egyptian pounds would replace the dollar so they can decide whether to stay. The final call is theirs.”

Hatab said that the Spanish coach of the Olympic Games taekwondo bronze medalist Malak is an exception “considering his remarkable achievement with Egypt’s Olympic champion and his plan for Tokyo 2020,” Hatab told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Reaction to the decisions taken by Egyptian sports federations have varied. At the beginning, there was obvious concern. But, weeks later, federations including swimming, judo, boxing and billiards have tried to find other resources and the effort has been effective. Instead of hand wringing and waiting for the government to intervene as usual, they decided to move.

The federations have just about given up on regular government financial aid and started looking for other resources from the private sector to support their participation in international events.

“We can’t stand still. The ministry did not completely abandon the federations but reduced the budget and allocations and we can’t blame them. We understand the situation and must cope with it. Accordingly we decided to look for other resources because we can’t stop participating abroad or we’ll lose gaining experience and improving our rankings and our level of performance. The losses will be big,” Yasser Idris, president of the Egyptian Swimming Federation, told the Weekly.

“We started looking for sponsors to help with our travel expenses which reached LE300,000. We found one and our federation managed to participate in the World Diving Championships in Kazan, Russia, last week. It paid off. Our divers did well. We did not win medals but the swimmers improved their personal Egyptian and African records and world rankings as well,” Idris added.

President of the Egyptian Judo Federation Sameh Mobasher found a sponsor who paid for the national team’s trip to Saudi Arabia for the Arab Judo Championship. Private sector sponsors also supported the billiards federation by hosting the World Billiards Championship in Hurghada and will finance the boxing federation when it hosts the Arab Youth Boxing Championship in Egypt in March next year.

The executive director of the sports sector of the Ministry of Youth and Sports Mahmoud Al-Helw praised the federations for cooperating with the government at this time. “They have reacted positively towards the decisions. We have always been generous but we are facing a difficult time. We will support those who will cooperate with us. The ministry can’t afford everything by itself, especially travel expenses which cost a lot. Whoever will solve this issue with sponsors can travel without any limits. Those who have reacted prove that hard times make achievements,” Al-Helw said.

The question now is whether other federations will give more effort in facing hard times ahead for the sake of their sports and try and generate their own resources which would keep them going through 2017. Could this crisis become the catalyst that would claim sporting independence from the government by shifting to the less bureaucratic private sector?

Egyptian sports could also witness another shift, hopefully for the better, when the new sports law comes to light soon. The draft has been up for public and parliamentary debate for the past year. It is in its final stages.

“We are expecting the parliament members to vote for the final draft very soon, before the end of this year or early 2017,” Minister Abdel-Aziz told the Weekly. “Egypt deserves a modern modified sports law that would take sports forward.”

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