Image 1 of 10: The Olympic symbol, the “Olympic rings”, comes in 5 intertwined circles representing the 5 inhabited continents (Africa, America, Asia, Oceania, & Europe). Middle Eastern nations are bundled into Africa or Asia or Europe; effectively making Lebanon, the KSA & Kuwait “Asian” and Cyprus & Israel “European”. New passports may be in order!
Image 1 of 10: Team Iran has 5 athletes competing in two sports. Hossein Saveh Shemshaki and Mohammad Kia-Darbandsari will both compete in alpine skiing. Kia-Darbandsari began skiing in Darbandsar, Iran, at age four, introduced to the sport by his skier parents. He was the first Iranian athlete to medal at an Asian Winter Games, at the 2011 Games in Kazakhstan.
Image 1 of 10: Iran’s Forough Abbasi is best known for her bicycle skills; the 20 year old works for the Cycling Federation of the Islamic Republic of Iran but also competes in alpine skiing. Images of Middle Eastern athletes are hard to come by, particularly for female competitors.
Image 1 of 10: Team Israel has five athletes competing in three sports. Evgeni Krasnopolski, a Ukraine native who grew up in
Israel, will skate in the pairs competition with Andrea Davidovich, from the USA. The pair finished seventh in
the senior pairs competition at the European Skating Championships earlier this month in Budapest, Hungary.
Image 1 of 10: Team Israel also includes Ukraine-born Vladislav Bykanov who will compete in short-track speed skating. He finished in the top 10 in multiple categories at the European championships. Figure skater Alexei Bychenko, a Ukraine native, and Virgile Vandeput, a former member of Belgium’s national skiing team, with an Israeli mother, will compete.
Image 1 of 10: Team Lebanon has 2 skiers garnering gobs of attention! "I feel like the bobsled team from Jamaica," said three-time 28 year-old Olympian Chirine Njeim. She became the first Lebanese athlete to participate in the Winter Olympics alt Lake City in 2002, where she carried her country's flag in the opening ceremony as the sole 'Arab' athlete.
Image 1 of 10: Lebanon’s Jackie Chamoun began skiing at age three in Faraya, Lebanon. She notoriously posed for a
calendar called “Ski Instructors” shot by fellow Olympian Hubertus von Hohenlohe. The shoot (which included teammate Njeim) created negative buzz within conservative Lebanon, but she said, "It was positive for me. I don't regret it at all".
Image 1 of 10: Team Cyprus has two athletes competing in the same sport. Cypriot slalom youngsters Constantinos Papamichael and Alexandra Taylor will be among the 3,000 athletes competing in the 98 medal events. A podium finish is likely out of the question this year, but practice does make perfect! Cyprus has been a fixture at the Winter Olympics since 1980.
Image 1 of 10: Team Turkey has 6 athletes competing in three sports. Figure skaters Alper Uçar and Alisa Agafonova join cross-country skiers Sabahattin Oğlago and Kelime Çetinkaya as well as alpine racers Tuğba Kocaağa and Emre Şimşek. Turkey has participated in a total of 15 Olympics but has not won a single medal. Maybe 16th time lucky?
Image 1 of 10: Team Morocco has two athletes competing in one sport. Teenager Kenza Tazi joined her first skiing club at age 12, and each year her passion for the sport grew. Following a fall in January 2013, she underwent knee surgery. Her sporting philosophy is, "Hard work pays off." Optimistic outlook, but she’s only eighteen.
Some might be still trying to get their heads around the new place on the map that has come to our sporting attention -- in the form of Olympic host 'Sochi'...others are interested in the line-up of athletes as the global competition spirit sets in. Athletes from a record-breaking 88 countries are set to compete in Sochi, the first Olympic Games held in the Russian Federation since the 1991 breakup of the USSR. The number of worldwide viewers will also shatter records as the games can be watched on laptop or TV, and now on smartphones and tablets via new apps that place the sporting action in the palm of your hand!
Last Sunday, the International Olympic Committee released the final list of nations participating in the Sochi Games, which opens Friday, 7 February. Want to see who’s competing from the Middle East and its regional and Mediterranean neighbors (so renowned for their winter sports as they are!)?
Since the the official website for the Sochi Games goes in for the traditional geographical demarcations, drawing the lines by continents, the “Middle East” per se doesn't really get a look in. Countries are split among five continents (excluding Antarctica, whose occupants would score gold if “keeping warm” was an event). Middle Eastern nations are instead palmed off into Africa or Asia or Europe. Al Bawaba says NYET to THAT!
Cyprus, Lebanon, Iran, Israel, Morocco and Turkey will all be represented in this year’s games, coverage of which is already veering off specific sports to broader security issues. Early news reports alerted to a so-called “Black Widow” terrorist attack stemming from Chechnya, the epicenter of Islamic terrorism in Russia.
In an interview with the UK Business Times, mathematical physicist Dr Gordon Woo, self-described “calculator of catastrophes”, said, “Because of the history between the Russians and the Chechen people who splintered to form the Caucasus Emirate, Sochi is a prime target for terrorism.”
The Games are also occurring at a tense period marked by heightened confrontation between the US and Russia and an ongoing protest movement in Ukraine. And don’t get us started on Russia's controversial laws on homosexuality. (Gay rights protests have been organized in 19 cities around the globe, with activists seeking to persuade sponsors of the event to speak out in support of the LBGT agenda).
Insha’Allah, for the next two weeks, everyone behaves!
Let’s hope that camaraderie and the values of the Olympic ideal prevail, celebrating the joy found in effort, the educational value of good example and respect for universal fundamental ethical principles. Olympic marketing is usually most histrionic within host countries, but subdued local support may prevail due to cultural mores in a conservative region of Russia, in the Krasnodar Krai district.
Let the winter games begin and may the warmth of the Middle East