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Hosts in the lead
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 22 - 11 - 2007

With only five days to go for the culmination of the Pan-Arab Games, host country Egypt maintains the lead by a huge margin, reports Inas Mazhar
Eleven days into the 11th edition of the Pan-Arab Games, most of the competitions have already been decided with Egypt winning more than a hundred gold medals so far.
By day nine, Egypt had won a total of 252 medals including 104 gold, 83 silver and 65 bronze. Second and third respectively, by a huge margin, were Tunisia and Algeria. The Tunisians claimed 47 gold medals, 25 silver and 31 bronze, winning a total of 103, while the Algerians won 23 gold medals, 31 silver and 37 bronze, collecting a total of 91 medals. Qatar, which is currently preparing a serious bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, came fourth with a total of 24 medals: 10 gold, seven silver and seven bronze. Meanwhile Morocco came fifth, with a total of 50 medals: eight gold, 15 silver and 27 bronze.
The two-week Games are being held in eight different Egyptian governorates: Cairo, Giza, Alexandria, Ismailia, Port Said, North Sinai, Assiut and Aswan.
Egypt won medals in the following events: 18 in archery, including six gold, five silver and seven bronze; three silver medals in Bowling; ten medals in camel racing including four gold and six silver; a gold and a silver in cycling; three gold, seven silver and four bronze in equestrianism; eight gold, three silver and seven bronze in fencing; 12 gold, 10 silver and five bronze in gymnastics; five gold, four silver and three bronze in judo; six gold, one silver and two bronze in rowing; five gold, one silver and two bronze in sailing; seven gold, four silver and three bronze in shooting; two gold, two silver and two bronze in squash; 12 gold, 13 silver and 16 bronze in swimming; two gold, one silver and three bronze in tennis; six gold , three silver and three bronze in taekwondo; one bronze in volleyball; a gold in water polo; six gold, three silver and four bronze in wrestling; and of course the major harvest was reaped in weightlifting as usual, with 23 gold, 16 silver and three bronze medals.
Local swimmers dominated the pool with an overall 41 medals. However, the lead went to the Tunisian swimmers who won 16 gold medals, thanks to their superstar Marwa Al-Mathlouthi who alone claimed nine gold medals of the 16 total, and was crowned the female superstar swimmer of the Pan-Arab Games. She thus equalled the record of the Egyptian golden fish Rania Elwani, who claimed nine gold medals and two silvers in the Eighth Pan-Arab Games in Beirut ten years ago.
This year's Games also unveiled some other superstars, including Heba Khaled El-Bourini who claimed four gold medals and two silvers in the rhythmic gymnastics competition. El-Bourini, aged 14, captured the hearts of the spectators as she smoothly and elegantly performed her routines winning the all-round individual gold medal, which included the four apparatuses (the hoop, the ribbon, the ball and the rope).
With a surprise victory over Saudi Arabia, Libya heated up the football competition. Saudi Arabia was, together with Egypt, the favourite for the event's gold medal. But against the odds, Libya beat Saudi Arabia 2-1, paving the way for a tough clash between Egypt and Libya in their decisive game Wednesday. The winner of that game will no doubt take the gold.
No doubt the football competition, held in Ismailia and Port Said, has constituted the most exciting and popular event in all the Games. Both stadiums witnessed a high spectator turnout in all matches, even in those that did not involve the Egyptians' participation. Only five teams took part: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Libya. While three teams are participating with their first teams and superstars, Sudan and the UAE are participating with under-23 teams. The teams play a one-round league, which means that each team plays four games. So far, each team has played twice. Egypt and Libya are in the lead with six points each from winning two matches. The pharaohs beat the UAE in their opener 3-0, and thrashed the Sudanese 5-0 in the second game. Libya beat Saudi Arabia, while Sudan has lost in all its matches. The UAE, which beat Sudan 2- 0, shares the Saudis' three points from one victory each. The football competition final will be held prior to the closing ceremony at the Cairo Stadium.
The home teams' dominance in most of the Games' competitions, and their collection of almost three quarters of the gold medals, raised questions about the other teams' level of performance. However, Egypt's lead reveals neither the others' weakness nor a deterioration of Arab sports. It is more likely that Egypt, as the host country, is probably the only participant to have taken the Games seriously. Dominating the Games and winning titles is a public demand before being an official one. Therefore, Egypt was keen on taking part with all its first teams in all the events and disciplines. The Egyptian delegation in the Games is the largest in number, with over 800 athletes representing the country. Other participants, including Algeria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia, did not place so much weight on the Games.
Three months ago, Egypt came first at the All-Africa Games in Algeria, with only one gold medal ahead of the Algerians. Tunisia was third and the competition among these three Arab- African countries was tough until the Games' completion, creating a real atmosphere of competition and excitement.
Three months later, Algeria and Tunisia are competing here in Egypt, but their level of performance and spirit have dropped. The reason is that participation in the Pan-Arab Games is a political demand, relating to the meeting of Arab youth and Arab officials under the umbrella of brotherhood. The All-Africa Games or the All-Asia Games, however, are real tough competitions that qualify the teams and individuals to the world championships or the Olympic Games. The Pan- Arab Games are, however, recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC). IOC President Jacques Rogges was present at the opening ceremony, seated at the presidential tribune along with Egyptian President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak and various other Arab presidents, kings and princes.
In all, most of Arab countries, Africans or Asians, came to Egypt without their superstars, who are meanwhile training and preparing for the Olympic Games scheduled to take place in Beijing next summer. If these athletes were present, the Egyptian-hosted Pan-Arab Games would no doubt have been much more thrilling.

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