One day, a person told me that I should stay objective as a reporter especially when I am at the same time an athlete, but things need to be said.
Let me introduce you to the world of athletics in Lebanon.
The number of athletes in Lebanon is very small. Athletics, the mother of all sports, isn’t a popular sport like basketball here. We should mention that basketball, and especially men’s, is unfortunately the only interrest of sports media in this country; we don’t mean that this is bad, but other sports should do an effort to challenge basketball in the media field, of course without bringing political issues to sports. Athletes are all part of different clubs, some of them don’t have a track to train on, they do some sessions on the road or get a track one day per week. The Lebanese athlete work very hard, the dedicated one of course, but he or she works on his or her own, sometimes without coaches. Few, very few clubs support their athletes and help them achieve their goals. The others are just there for the name, and their athletes continue their lonely journey of purchasing their dreams. I am not being pessimistic, I am only describing the situation in Lebanon. I know that other countries are maybe worse, or are in the same hole as we are, but we should face this and try to climb to the top.
Lebanon is the smallest country in the world with 4 million inhabitants. It is a country like Jamaica. We have aproximatevely the same population number. How does Jamaica work to produce Olympic Champions? A Jamaican will answer this question for us; my coach, Elie Saade, asked the same question to a Jamaican official at the 2012 London Games and the Jamaican answered that they simply prepare the kids, starting from the age of 6, to be world champions, they select the best among them and put them on the right track. Jamaica doesn’t have facilities like the United States, yet they left no medals for the States in sprint events. We can conclude that our problem, or on the other hand, the Jamaican “secret power", comes from the system. A system that prepares the young athletes to shine in the future. A system that have one goal: Produce Olympic Champions for their OWN COUNTRY. It is sad to hear that Lebanon has only collected 3 olympic medals since the beginning of the Olympic Games, but no gold. Today there is only one athlete who is achieving this greatness. You don’t know who is it? Ask the local media about Edward Maalouf the Paralympic athlete who won two bronze medals at the Beijing 2008 Olympics and who is preparing now for another quest in Rio.
To get back to our subject, and continue comparing Lebanon to Jamaica, everyone knows how the Jamaicans support their champions, and for this issue, I think the Minister of Sports and Education and the Lebanese Olympic Committee needs to act. To build a solid relationship between the Lebanese people and sports, they need media specialists, good advertising strategies and of course the help of all the federations and Sports-related NOGs.
Moreover, we hear every year names of young talents who are shinning in different events. At first we call them the rising stars, at last the stars begin to fade. Why? Let's see the reason behind this misfortune. Who took these young and gifted athletes in charge and put them on the right track? No body. Did the federation offered them a track to train on? a coach to train with? No. Did the club did that? No. Thank God we have some coaches who see these stars and take care of them. But what if this athlete lives very far from the place this coach train? It’s simple, I will tell you what will happen according to examples I’ve seen myself: this athlete comes from far to train with this coach, he or she is very dedicated and very excited to take part in the Track and Field family. After one week, he or she begins to feel the heaviness of that very long road. His trainings decreases from 3 or 4 times per week to twice a week, and by the time going he’s gone, lost in the darkness of the sky. In Track and Field Society, we enumerate the rising stars every year, and we concluded that every year one or two stars have been saved from fading. The Ministry of Sports, the LOC, the federation, the clubs, the coaches and the sponsors should take care of these rising stars, even athletes are responsible, we should all put our efforts in building a new strong generation of Lebanese olympians.
There is one important thing concerning these rising stars, Schools and Universities. The kids grow up, some of them quit training because of the system. This time it isn’t the system of Jamaica, but the education system in Lebanon. We shouldn’t ignore the support that schools and universities give us; they let us travel for competitions, they applaud us when we come back with medals… but they don’t treat the athlete differently from the others. They ask him or her how he or she manages the time between their studies and practice, and they are always surprised by the efforts the athlete make. What do they do to make his life a bit easier? Nothing. I wonder why it is the Ministry and Sports AND Education… An athlete only needs to train well, eat well and rest well. The last two options are always disturbed due to the education system. Being stuck in university, WORKING from 8 am to 6 pm or sometimes to 8, and everyday, is not a solution for the athlete who wants to get a good education and excel in his sports. In Lebanon it is clear, or you want to have a sports career and ignore your studies, or have a professional career by ignoring sports training, in this case sports are an option of course. We should mention that in other countries, they don’t differentiates between sports and professional careers, because sports in their country is a profession.
This is the reason why the number of kids in competitions decreases by the time they grow up. The lack of adversity comes from lack of athletes.
Did you ask yourself why I decided to compare Lebanon to Jamaica? It all began with doping. This year was the biggest doping scandal Jamaica has ever had, especially when the athletes concerned are Asafa Powel and Sherone Simpson. Two years ago, doping controls in Lebanon started to be more frequent thus more efficient. Four Lebanese athletes were caught. Hussein Awada from Lebanese Army, Ahmad Hazer and Ramzi Naim from Champions Club, and lately Ghena Assir from Elite Club. Hussein Awada had an amazing career in track and field, he improved long distance running and marathon records hundreds of times maybe. Ahmad Hazer started improving the 110m Hurdles records since he was a youth. He was the first person to break the 14 seconds barrier in this event, but was caught for doping last year. Ramzi Naim was a figure in 400 meters, he was also present on the 100 and 200 meters for the challenge. He also set many records in 200 and 400 meters since he was a youth. Ghena Assir won the 2013 Beirut Marathon. These athletes, especially the boys, can be compared to Asafa and Sherone, they were among the best athletes in Lebanon. Ahmad Hazer was the best men in athletics last year! Unfortunately, they cheated. May I ask why? Why did you cheat guys? To break few Lebanese records? Or to be selected on the national team? Or to win the Beirut Marathon? Or it was a medication you took not asking what substances it contains? Athletes aim for medals, they aim for Olympic Glory, World titles. Ok, let me say that athletes in Lebanon can aim for Asian Gold, Arab Gold, West Asian Triple Gold! They can aim for Olympic standards to qualify for the Olympics! They aim to qualify for the world championship! They aim to throw this wild card away and qualify knowing that the hard work paid! It is sad to hear that a Lebanese athlete have been caught doping, first, because he or she are representing our country, second, because our country isn’t Jamaica even if we are comparing it to Jamaica, we are not on the same level as Asafa Powel or Sherone Simpson or Tyson Gay and a lot more… Maybe Tyson and Asafa cheated to try to be as fast as Usain Bolt, but they were caught. Why does a Lebanese athlete need to cheat? It is in our nature as humans to want to improve, it is our nature as athletes to want to go faster to jumper higher to throw further and to become stronger! But we can achieve greatness without taking the easiest way of cheating. Winning is great of course, but it is greater when winning last for ever and when you know that you suffered a lot and sacrificed lots of things for your passion and all the sweat and pain pay off! Cheaters are weak, we must stay strong! I personally know very well two of these athletes, and I know how hard they worked, I don’t know of course the reason that lead them to doping but it isn’t over. You can get back, be clean, live clean and achieve greatness again, because you guys are talented and strong!
Finally, I would like to encourage all the athletes, younger and older, to be aware of the danger of doping, educate your self if there is no one to educate you, don’t fall in the trap of weakness, stay strong and have fun performing. Enjoying the sports is essential for all of us. Having fun and enjoying training and competing is thousands of times more powerful than performance enhancing substances.
A last message for all those responsible for the education of athletes to avoid taking performance enhancing drugs; please do your job.