By Louay Khraish
Many Lebanese might be unaware that 10 athletes from Lebanon (seven were females) participated at the XXX Summer Olympics in London. This is probably due to the minor coverage the team received in the Lebanese media, which is disheartening, especially since these athletes made it to the Olympics on their own accord without any significant support from the Lebanese government or the consistently inept Lebanese Olympic Committee.
Lebanon has not won an Olympic medal since 1980 and has only won 4 medals since 1948, and the reason for this failure is not that Lebanon cannot foster great athletes but rather because the government has not invested in its athletes to hone their talents, and the LOC has failed—for more than six decades—to find alternative and creative solutions to support and fund Olympic athletes.
Supporting athletes, financially, technically, nutritionally, medically and therapeutically, as well as psychologically is vital to their success. While America’s win of 104 medals was expected, Great Britain’s success was somewhat surprising. The British won 18 more medals than they had in Beijing in 2008. Their success could be contributed to having home-field advantage, but the real reason for their success goes back to 1997 when The National Lottery was established in the UK to support athletes so that they could train full-time. In addition to financial backing, the support included medical insurance and a team of nutritionists. The success of this initiative was evident long before London hosted the Olympics. In just four years after the National Lottery was established, the UK won 13 more medals at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney than they had in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta where they won only one gold medal. In 2012, Great Britain won 29 gold medals.
However, to compare the humble Lebanese participation at the 2012 Olympics or the Lebanese Government dismal support of sports or the Lebanese Olympic Committee’s abysmal success since its inception in 1947 to Great Britain’s is not fair. After all, the UK is one of the richest countries in the world with a population 15 times that of Lebanon
For a fairer comparison, let’s look at Jamaica. In size, Jamaica’s 10,990 km2 is comparable with Lebanon’s 10,452 km2. According to UN estimates, Lebanon’s population is just slightly above 4 million while Jamaica, a country that conducts official census—unlike Lebanon—has a population of 2.7 million so mathematically speaking at least Lebanon has a numerical advantage to Jamaica. Economically, the International Monetary Fund ranks Jamaica 88 while Lebanon ranks 59 in their list of countries by gross domestic product at purchasing power parity per capita. Additionally, Lebanon’s IMF rank is above the world GDP (PPP) per capita while Jamaica is below the world average. Also according to the World Bank, Jamaica ranks 95 while Lebanon ranks 66 in their list of wealthiest nations. Lebanon is therefore richer than Jamaica.
Even though Jamaica is a poorer country with a smaller population, they won 12 medals in London, ranking in 18th place among competing nations while Lebanon did not win any medals. Jamaica is a success story, but why? Are Jamaicans just born athletic? No!
The Government of Jamaica established in 1995 the Sports Development Foundation, an independent, public body with responsibility for the development of sport in the country. The foundation was responsible for establishing sports infrastructure and sports programs at the national and local school levels and honing and supporting athletes in all sports through an athletic welfare fund. This initiative raised Jamaica’s medal count from 6 medals in 1996 to 11 at the 2008 and 12 in 2012, making Jamaican sprinters the main rivals of the Americans.
With only four Olympic medals, the Lebanese Olympic Committee has been a failure, especially since the last Olympic medal Lebanon won was back in 1980. Lacking funding or governmental support is not an excuse. The LOC can take advantage of private funding just like the Beirut Marathon Association has. An overhaul of the LOC and especially the removal of the old guard are crucial at this point. The current chairperson, Antoine Chartier and the current secretary general, Ezzat Kraytem along with the board of directors should resign immediately. They didn’t even bother updating the LOC website for the 2012 Olympics. The future leaders of the LOC should not necessary be athletes or coaches but rather individuals with proven records of sports management. Yes, sports management has become an academic discipline!
Another failure is the Ministry of Sports, which is without any doubt the least coveted by our money-hungry politicians. Yet, this ministry can be one of the most successful ones if only the future minister appointed has any vision. To date, all the ministers of sports have been unfit, and the pun is intended.
While the ministry has no funding to support high school level sports, the least it can do is foster collegiate-level sports and at little cost to the ministry. Of the 29 higher education institutes in Lebanon, 28 are private but only few have athletic departments. Working with the Ministry of Education, the ministry should make it mandatory for all universities to establish athletics department in order to maintain their licenses.
Additionally, it should be compulsory that all universities have specific sports teams (men and women), such as football, basketball, volleyball, and handball in order to create national, collegiate-level tournaments and championships. The ministry should also encourage colleges to further develop rugby, chiefly because Lebanon reached the 2000 Rugby League World Cup. With the Beirut Marathon becoming an annual tradition, track & field should also be fostered at the university level.
With close to 30 universities, sport tournaments and championships can become very competitive in Lebanon and even lucrative for universities, advertisers, and broadcasters. With college sports established, the ministry then can focus on the high school level, which will require more creative funding solutions.
Additionally, the ministry needs to foster individual sports, like boxing, fencing, judo, taekwondo, and especially those with past successes such as Greco-Roman wrestling (three Olympic medals) and weight lifting (one Olympic medal). Shooting is another sport that can be developed. Let’s make better use of our guns!
Lebanon is 80% mountainous so it would make sense to develop the sport of mountain biking. With teenagers being arrested or even killed daily for performing stunts on their motorbikes, mountain biking and BMX can be a safer and more rewarding alternative. Does the current Minister of Sport know what BMX is? Additionally, all mountain and winter sports should be supported, particularly skiing. Lebanon’s 135 miles of coastline, is ideal for water sports as well, and levying a heavier tax on the coastal building violators can easily fund it.
The least sports can do in Lebanon is keep the youth off the street, burning tires in purposeless and politicized, sectarian protests. Jackie Dugall once said, “A race is not well-run unless you’ve crossed the finish line knowing that you couldn’t have kept going for one more step. If you could have, then you didn’t give it everything you had.” Neither the Ministry of Sports nor the LOC have ever given it everything they have.
Before I conclude, I want to pay tribute to the athletes, their parents, and coaches, who despite all obstacles, honorably represented Lebanon at the Olympics in London. So kudos and gratitude to Katya Bachrouche, Ray Bassil, Caren Chammas, Ahmad Hazer, Wael Koubrosli, Tvin Moumjoghlian, Andrea Paoli, Mona and Zain Shaito, and Gretta Taslakian. You make us proud unlike the Ministry of Sports and the LOC.
- Failed States Index
- Government of Jamaica, Population & Housing Census
- International Monetary Fund 2010-11
- International Olympic Committee
- The National Lottery, UK
- Sports Development Foundation, Jamaica
- World Bank 2011
- Worldwide Corruption Perceptions by Transparency International
- IMAC –Integrated Management of East Mediterranean Coastlines