Moroccan track legend Hicham El Guerrouj believes Arab governments and authorities must develop the way they’ve been managing sports in order to be able to produce Olympic champions like himself.
El Guerrouj, who has three Olympic medals – 1,500m and 5,000m gold won in Athens 2004 and 1,500m silver claimed in Sydney 2000 – and is a world record holder, is receiving the Mohammed bin Rashid Creative Sports Award in Dubai on Wednesday, in honour of his storied career in athletics.
The 43-year-old joined Tunisian four-time Olympic medallist Mohammed Gammoudi on stage on Tuesday, to take part in a talk labeled ‘Inspiring Experiences’ at the Sports Creativity Forum at Jumeirah Emirates Towers ahead of Wednesday’s awards ceremony.
“I am so happy to be here in Dubai to get the Mohammed bin Rashid Creative Sports Award. I’m honoured and humbled to be with many athletes like Mohammed Gammoudi, one of my favourites and a role model for me in the sport,” El Guerrouj told Sport360 on Tuesday.
Morocco has a long history in middle distance running, and its athletes have won a total of 19 medals in track and field at the Olympics, 18 of which were won between 1984 and 2012.
But El Guerrouj believes Morocco, and Arab countries in general, should be able to achieve much more on the world stage.
“We celebrate when we come back from the Olympics with two or three medals and that makes me very sad,” he says.
“The investment in sport much be changed, the mentality must change. We continue to manage sport the same way we managed it 20 years ago. This is why we need to adapt, we need to be focused in our goals. Our leaders must adapt to the current sports environment. All the medals we got in the Arab world are much less compared to the big resources we have, be it human or financial resources. I think we can get more and more.”
El Guerrouj’s 1,500m world record of 3:26.00 still stands a staggering 20 years after he claimed it in Rome.
He has run seven of the 10 fastest times in history of the 1,500m and the closest anyone has ever got to his mark Bernard Lagat 17 years ago when he clocked 3:26.34 in Brussels.
El Guerrouj describes how he managed to achieve so much success on the track, and whether he sees anyone breaking his two-decade-old record in the near future.
“My key elements is my passion for sport. The way I managed my career and how I invested in and focused on my career. I’m honoured and I was so happy to have a very good and strong family. My family were supporting me all the time. I used to have a very good and strong team, a very supportive team, as well as a good environment. Environment plays a good role in our career,” he explained.
“It’s my passion to support and to give and to push my body to the limit. Because there is no limit in sport. That’s what athletes must understand. If we want, we can. My record in the 1,500m still stands for 20 years, and that’s a result of something, a result of hard work, of passion of sport, of how we invest in our sport. If there is no passion, no love, no hard work, there is no result.
“I believe there are some good athletes from Kenya that can do something in 2018. Our global athletes must know exactly what they know, because running is managed in a professional way. If you want to get a world record, it’s how you work for it, if you want to be an Olympic champion… that’s why our athletes must be focused. If you want to be something bigger, you have to be more focused.”
Track and field has taken a hit since the retirement of superstar sprinter Usain Bolt and many feel it will be difficult for athletics to recover from the Jamaican’s absence.
El Guerrouj does not see it that way and says someone faster than Bolt is bound to come around.
“I don’t think so. God created six billion people in the world. God decided to create Usain Bolt as he created many athletes before. I think there will be more athletes in the future, maybe not in the next two or three years, but I believe we’ll see a new Usain Bolt maybe in five, 10 years. Faster than Usain Bolt,” said the North African.
“The support has changed. God creates good athletes and also technology is growing. Research and development are doing a strong job in sport. How we create the spikes, the clothes, everything is supporting the athlete to run faster. I think having good athletes, and good technology, and when we mix it we can do something bigger.”
The issue of doping continues to haunt athletics, with many athletes losing their medals after re-testing of samples, and Russia embroiled in a huge scandal.
Does El Guerrouj feel the sport is forever tainted?
“I believe we need to trust in our athletes. We need to continue to trust them. We cannot continue to judge athletes in a negative way. We need to judge them in how they invest their powers, how they are focused on their sport,” he says.
“Of course doping exists and we cannot stop doping just as we can’t stop crime in our society. Crime in society is like doping in sport. That’s why we need to make our organisation stronger to fight against doping but also we need to honour our clean athletes.
“We need to continue supporting clean athletes as we did in the past. The journalists and newspapers must change their mentality also, it must support the clean athletes as we support successful men and women in normal life.”
WINNERS OF THE 9TH MBR CREATIVE SPORTS AWARD
UAE Sports Personality
HE Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan (UAE)
Arab Sports Personality
HRH Princess Rima bint Bandar bin Sultan Al Saud (KSA)
UAE Outstanding Athlete
Omar Abdul Rahman Al AMoodi (Football)
Ebrahim Yousef Al Mansoori (Beach Soccer)
Saeed Bin Suroor Al Khaldi (Horse Racing)
UAE Jiu-Jitsu Federation
Arab Outstanding Athlete
Nour Atef El Sherbini (Egypt – Squash)
Dr. Ibrahim Mohammed Al Gannas (KSA)
Tarek Bin Mohamed Souei (Tunisia)
Faris Ibrahim Al Assaf (Jordan)
Iraqi Youth Football Team U16
International Organisation (For Association of Summer Olympic International Federations)
Union Cycliste International (UCI)
International Organisation (For IOC-Recognised International Sports Federations) International Cricket Council (ICC)
Arab Emerging Athlete
Mohammed Mustafa Al Sowaiq (KSA – Taekwondo)
Farida Hisham Osman (Egypt – Swimming)
Difficult Challenges (People of Determination Category):
Abdellatif Baka (Algeria – Athletics)
Fouad Baka (Algeria – Athletics)
Olympic Creative Sports
Mohammed Gammoudi (Tunisia – Athletics)
Hicham El Guerrouj (Morocco – Athletics)
UAE Emerging Athlete (Nominees)
Hussain Yousuf Anwar (Football)
Ammar Mohammed Al Sedrani (Chess)
Maitha Abdulla Hasan (Judo)
Wadima Saeed Abdulla (Jiu-jitsu)
Omar Mohammed Alwan (Jiu-jitsu)
Abdalla Guhloom Al Maazimi (Taekwondo)
The sixth year of the World Para Athletics Grand Prix series will take in nine towns and cities across four continents during 2018, starting in Dubai, UAE, in mid-March and finishing in Berlin, Germany, in early July.
For the second successive year, Dubai will host the season opening event with around 450 athletes set to compete from March 13-16. At last year’s Dubai Grand Prix athletes smashed seven world records and with warm weather practically guaranteed, more records could fall once again at the Dubai Club for the Disabled track.
From the Middle East, athletes will head to South America with the Brazilian Paralympic Committee’s Paralympic Training Centre in Sao Paulo staging the season’s second Grand Prix between April 26-28 .
The Grand Prix series then takes in a third continent as track and field action returns to Beijing, China from May 11-13. The event, which takes place at one of the training venues used for the Beijing 2008 Games, is likely to attract many of the athletes that led China to the top of the medals table at the London 2017 World Para Athletics Championships.
Rieti, Italy, was a new addition to the calendar in 2017 and the Stadio Raul Guidobaldi track will host the fourth Grand Prix of the year from May 18-20 .
One week later, Nottwil in Switzerland plays host to the 2018 Grand Prix series with three days of world-class Para athletics set to take place from May 25-27 . In 2017, 11 world records were broken at the Swiss track in what has become one of the most highly regarded wheelchair meetings in the world.
The month of June sees four Grand Prix taking place around the world.
The Arizona Grand Prix in the USA takes place from June 15-16, while after a hugely successful inaugural Paris Grand Prix in 2017, the Stade Charléty in the French capital will once again open its doors to many of the world’s best Para athletes for two days of competition on June 15 and 16.
The penultimate Grand Prix of 2018 takes place from June 22-24 in Tunis, Tunisia – a country that boasts plenty of home-grown talent and finished sixth on the medals table at the 2017 World Championships.
The year’s final Grand Prix will take place in the German capital from 30 June – 1 July and will act as a curtain raiser to the World Para Athletics European Championships which take place in the same venue – the city’s Friedrich Ludwig Jahn Sportpark – just eight weeks later.
First held in Assen, the Netherlands, in 2003, the European Championships have taken place every two years since 2012.
The 2018 Championships in Berlin will be the sixth edition – following on from Grosseto, Italy in 2016 – and take place from August 20-26.
World 100m champion Justin Gatlin says he is “shocked and surprised” by allegations in a British newspaper that his coach and an athletics agent offered to sell performance-enhancing drugs to undercover reporters.
Anti-doping officials have launched an investigation into the claims about Gatlin’s coach Dennis Mitchell and an agent, Robert Wagner while IAAF President Seb Coe says changes are needed.
“We are looking at who we want in our sport,” Coe, the 1500m gold medallist from the 1980 and 1984 Games, said in a statement.
“The IAAF recognises as an industry we need to do more,” said the Englishman.
“Focusing on the influences that surround athletes is a critical area of work,” Coe insisted.
The 35-year-old American sprint star, who has twice served bans for doping, said he had sacked Mitchell after hearing of the claims.
The report alleged Mitchell and Wagner offered to provide undercover reporters with false prescriptions for banned performance-enhancing substances and smuggle the drugs into the United States.
The claims are being investigated by the Athletics Integrity Unit (AIU), set up this year by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) and the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA).
Gatlin said on Instagram: “I was shocked and surprised to learn that my coach would have anything to do with even the appearance of these current accusations. I fired him as soon as I found out about this.”
He said he was “not using and have not used” performance-enhancing drugs.
He added: “All legal options are on the table as I will not allow others to lie about me like this.”
IAAF president Sebastian Coe said the claims were concerning.
“These allegations are extremely serious and I know the independent Athletics Integrity Unit will investigate in accordance with its mandate,” Coe said.
That came even as the 2017 world champion, who beat Usain Bolt in the 100m final in London, had legal advisers release five years of official drugs tests that showed he was clean.
Gatlin has long been a controversial figure after being banned for doping in 2001 for one year and in 2006 for four years.
His long-time agent, former sprint hurdler Renaldo Nehemiah, told the newspaper that Wagner had represented Gatlin only two to three times and that Gatlin was not present when banned substances were allegedly discussed with Mitchell or Wagner.
Mitchell and Wagner allegedly offered to supply and administer testosterone and human growth hormone for an actor training for a film on athletics at a price of $250,000 according to the report.
The newspaper said it began its investigation in July after hearing of agents and trainers involved in supplying drugs to athletes.