DUBAI: Tarek Hamdi’s karate silver medal for Saudi Arabia at Tokyo 2020 turned what was an Olympics of encouraging participation for the Kingdom’s 33-athlete delegation into one of memorable success.
The 23-year-old received a hero’s welcome on his return to Jeddah last week, and praise for his achievement has continued to pour in from fellow Saudis and from across the Arab world since.
But there is group of Saudi athletes whose heroic status is already guaranteed who will be calling on the country’s support in the coming weeks.
Barring any last-minute cancelations, a Saudi delegation will soon be setting off for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games which will take place between Aug. 24 and Sept. 5, 2021.
Like the recently completed Olympics, the Paralympics had been from postponed from last year, and will now be held in Tokyo for the second time, the first being in 1964. It will be the 16th edition of the Paralympics with 537 events in 22 sports.
Confirmed qualifiers for the Saudi team are Abdulrahman Al-Qurashi, Fahad Al-Junaidel, Ali Al-Nakhli, Hassan Doshi, Sarah Al-Jumaah, and Al-Hanouf Abu Hamed in athletics, while Maryam Al-Muraisel will compete in table tennis and Ahmed Al-Sharbatly in the equestrian event.
Saudi first took part in the Paralympics at Atlanta 1996, and though their has been delegations to the Games ever since, this will be the first to feature a Saudi female athlete.
The participation comes at a time when the Saudi Arabian Paralympic Committee is taking major steps to develop and implement adaptive sports opportunities for people with disabilities through new nationwide initiatives.
“Fakher,” a campaign organized by Saudi’s National Paralympic Committee (NPC) under the Quality of Life program, was launched on July 4 and aims to support the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which seeks to increase engagement in sports and improve the quality of life for Saudis.
The first ever one-week training camp was held in Riyadh from Aug. 1 and other similar programs, which will include more than 350 selected Saudis, will take place over the coming year.
Such initiatives can only boost the advancement of sporting participation for special needs athletes in Saudi Arabia and the region.
It is estimated that globally there are more than 1.2 billion people with disabilities, 15 percent of the world’s population.
But for years, and due to underlying social and cultural norms and taboos, training programs, facilities and competitions for people with special needs in the Middle East lagged behind the rest of the world.
In recent times, however, and in particular over the past decade, things have improved dramatically.
The Abu Dhabi 2019 Special Olympics World Summer Games, the first competition of its kind to be held in the Middle East, proved a landmark event in the region with more than 7,000 athletes from 200 nations taking part.
It also coined the term “People of Determination” in reference to disabled people.
February saw the hosting of the Dubai 2021 World Para Athletics Grand Prix — 12th Fazza International Para Athletics Championships — which for some nations doubled as a qualification tournament for the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
The Fazza International Athletics Championships were established in 2009 by Dubai Club for the People of Determination under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashed Al-Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai and president of the Dubai Sports Council. It has since attracted some of the world’s best para-athletes due to the high standard of organization and facilities it provides.
In less than two weeks, the Paralympic athletes of Saudi Arabia and other Arab nations will be going for glory in the Japanese capital, but receiving less attention than their colleague did in at the recently concluded Tokyo 2020 Games.
Whether they return with gold, silver or bronze medals, or neon at all, they will deserve the acclaim that Hamdi and his colleagues so richly deserved.