On a win and a prayer

Islamic Solidarity Games have a much-needed message but the only positive changes may remain in the sporting arena.

    On a win and a prayer
    The Games gave athletes representing countries embroiled in conflict a chance for normalcy [GETTY]

    When politics and governments fail, it’s often left to sport to prove that humanity is a worthwhile race and that people can get on with each other.

    The football World Cup in 2010 made South Africa’s faltering new dawn just a touch lighter, and last year Great Britain’s slow descent into non-greatness was arrested by the London Olympics.

    Tuesday saw the end of a tournament whose title is almost a desperate plea for its own ideals to be adopted by the societies it represents.

    The Islamic Solidarity Games had their closing ceremony in Palembang, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, after a week that saw more than 2,000 athletes from 56 countries taking part in 13 sports.

    The home nation topped the medals table with 36 gold.

    But it was the participation of athletes from other countries that put the event’s message in stark contrast with realities at home.

    Alawite against Sunni in Syria, Sunni against Shia in Iraq, and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, to name just a few of those realities. It would be unfair not to mention peaceful places like Oman and Jordan who also competed, but the list of those with current or recent conflict, such as Mali, is longer.

    Whether or not its message of harmony can have any impact, the Games gave athletes representing those countries the chance for normalcy.

    "It’s very important for them," Ade Lukman, the marketing director of the organising committee, told Al Jazeera after the closing ceremony.

    "Here they have friendship and support and respect. You see that in the unity and spirit of the athletes. They can show the value of sport during the championships, and it’s also important for the countries to show the world their friendship."

    Of course, sport is simpler than politics. Go faster, leap higher, be stronger than your opponent, shake hands and embrace under your respective flags when the contest is over.

    The overall aim is about harmony and unity among Islamic countries... We're in competition, but most important thing is being together, showing the world that they can get on together

    Ade Lukman, organising committee,

    "The overall aim is about harmony and unity among Islamic countries," Lukman said.

    "We’re in competition, but most important thing is being together, showing the world that they can get on together. In sport, we speak the same language."

    Making this third edition of the tournament happen was no easy matter. It was originally moved away from Sumatra to the capital, Jakarta, but was then relocated in Palembang – which at least had the benefit of venues used by the Southeast Asian Games two years ago.

    "We had very limited preparation time, but we prepared to the maximum," Lukman said.

    "The friendship among Islamic countries has been maintained, and hopefully the 2017 games in Azerbaijan will be bigger again, and be a stepping stone for the athletes to the Olympics."

    That more than anything may be the ultimate sporting benefit of this event. Of the countries in the Organisation of the Islamic Conference who took part, the highest-placed at London 2012 was Iran in 17th

    Their second-place in the medal table in Indonesia won’t have improved their own Olympic prospects much. But for smaller countries, the chance for extra competition against more experienced athletes such as the Iranians could be invaluable.

    For most competitors here, the next bar to aim at is the Asian Games in Incheon, South Korea, in 2014.

    For others, solidarity and harmony on the home front would be an even greater prize.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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