A total of 16 medals were won by Arab countries in Rio 2016 – although Kuwait’s two in shooting don’t officially count towards the nation’s tally due to its suspension by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) over government interference in sport.
Those 16 were captured by athletes from nine Arab states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Jordan, Algeria, Qatar, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and the UAE – across eight different sports. Three of those are gold, four are silver and nine are bronze.
Is that good?
Well it is more than the 12 (three gold, two silver, seven bronze) amassed in London four years ago, but it remains a measly tally collected by 22 Arab countries spread across the Middle East and North Africa.
Bahrain was the highest Arab finisher in the Rio medals table, lying in 48th, thanks to the gold and silver won by Kenyan-born women Ruth Jebet in the 3,000m steeplechase and Eunice Jepkirui Kirwa in the marathon, respectively.
UAE’s Moldovan-born judoka Sergiu Toma was a third naturalised athlete bringing home a medal for an Arab country, getting bronze in the under-81kg category.
But while looking at numbers and figures can paint a depressing picture of how far behind the Arab world remains when it comes to sport, there is much to celebrate when it comes to Arab achievements in Rio this month.
One important stat is that of the 16 medal won, six of them were won by women. For a region that does not always encourage women to take up sport, and with cultural barriers hindering female Arab talent, the fact that 37.5 per cent of the medals won were captured by women is a great achievement. Especially considering that only two Arab women brought home medals in London 2012.
Two of Egypt’s three medalists were women, 18-year-old Sara Ahmed in weightlifting and 23-year-old Hedaya Malak in Taekwondo. Ahmed was the first Egyptian to ascend the Olympic podium in the nation’s 104-year history at the Games.
Saudi Arabia, who up until London 2012 had never fielded any women at the Olympics, had four females competing in Rio – two in athletics, one judoka and one fencer.
Perhaps the greatest progress was felt in the pool. Nada Al Bedwawi became the UAE’s first female swimmer at the Olympics and she was even chosen as the nation’s flag-bearer in the opening ceremony. There were nine Arab swimmers in the women’s 50m freestyle heats alone, from countries ranging from Palestine to Syria to Kuwait to Sudan.
One unforgettable moment was when 18-year-old Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, whose incredible story saw her steal the hearts of fans worldwide, won her 50m butterfly heat.
Nada Meawad and Doaa Elghobashy made history as the first female beach volleyball pair from Egypt and they caught the eye of the public with their full-length bodysuits that showed every Arab woman that you can compete in sport without giving up your personal beliefs.
History was not made at the hands of just the women of course. The sensational Ahmad Abughaush brought Jordan its first-ever Olympic medal by taking gold in taekwondo under-68kg action.
Kuwait’s Fehaid Al Deehani, competing as an independent athlete, won his third career Olympic medal, and first gold, in double trap shooting, 16 years after getting bronze in Sydney.
Mutaz Barshim won Qatar’s first-ever silver medal by clearing 2.36m to place second in high jump.
While a lot of work needs to be done in order for Arab countries to give better performances at the Olympics, there is no doubt that what our athletes exhibited in Rio can be used to inspire many generations to come.
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