To combat coronavirus and pay tribute to healthcare workers, Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi lit up Cairo Stadium last week under the motto “Save Lives, and Stay Home”. Sobhi switched on a light show of the gates and electronic boards to encourage people to stay home and at the same time practise sports.
“We encourage people to stay at home to stay safe and at the same time practise some sports and fitness exercises to raise their immunity level at this critical time to combat Covid-19,” Sobhi said. “I thank all medical staff everywhere for their tremendous efforts and their sacrifices to keep all of us safe. This is why we should help them and our country by staying home and training.
“We have done our part by closing all youth centres and clubs in addition to suspending all sports activities everywhere. We have also encouraged sportsmen and businessmen to help the unemployed and those in need in such circumstances, and their initiatives were very fruitful,” stated Sobhi.
In the midst of the pandemic, athletes with intellectual disabilities are being viewed just as important as their able-bodied counterparts.
Al-Ahram Weekly spoke to Ashraf Al-Ogueil, deputy president of the Egyptian Intellectual Disabilities Federation. “The health of our athletes is very important in such a crucial time so we have asked all athletes to continue their sports programmes with their coaches at their clubs or national teams and to stay home to keep safe,” Al-Ogueil said. “We have also uploaded a number of cultural activities on the federation’s website where athletes can compete in music, art and other fields.”
The Weekly also spoke to Reda Abu Zeid, head of the sports sector at the 6th of October Club which includes three sports for people with intellectual disabilities: swimming, athletics and table tennis.
“At this crucial time, I am very happy to say that all our athletes are safe,” Abu Zeid said. “Although their immunity rates are low, they are staying home and keeping safe at the moment. We have applied Zoom meetings so that each coach can get in contact with his athletes twice a week.
“In such sessions that last for an hour we raise the athletes’ fitness and do some stretching exercises that are important to keep the players fit and healthy. We also guide them through a healthy diet so that they avoid becoming overweight during this time when all activities are postponed.”
Abu Zeid singled out one of his athletes a “perfect example of determination and enthusiasm because he is dumb, deaf and blind.” The athlete is a national champion in swimming, Mohamed Hassan, 13.
“We used to train him using his sense of touch, but now through Zoom he also trains with me. His brother and sister, both play sports, join us to instruct and guide him and apply the same training to keep him fit and healthy.”
The Weekly also interviewed Yasser Hefni, 31, a modern pentathlon champion who was awarded the Order of the Merit three times: in 2008 from former president Hosni Mubarak when he won first place at the Youth World Championship, becoming the first Egyptian to collect a gold medal in a world championship.
In 2016 and 2017 Hefni was honoured by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi after winning two gold medals in the World Military Championships in Moscow and World Champions team events.
Recently, Hefni held a major championship online in laser shooting.
“I feel bored just like all athletes who at this time have to stay home with no training and nothing to be done at the moment,” Hefni said. “So I decided to start an online laser shooting championship. It began when I thought of a video online under the motto “Practise at home and stay safe”. Then I changed the idea to that of a championship, an international tournament. When I found a sponsor, I uploaded the idea and it attracted a lot of attention. We now have 280 competitors, 70 per cent of whom are Egyptians in addition to players from Spain, Mexico, Great Britain, France, Germany and Russia.
“We will implement it on Zoom. We will have judges from all over the world. We decided to call it Flying Mex and we have the five-metre rule in which the target should be placed five metres away.
“I chose the laser part because it is safe. We divided the competitors in two categories, Under 13 (youth or teen) and Open. We will play a round of 16, then the quickest two will qualify to the quarters until we reach the finals where the first place winners will win a laser simulator while second and third place winners will receive a shooting laser board.”
To Hefni’s surprise, when he broached the idea, the championship attracted famous players, including world No 1 Valnentin Belaud who qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, now postponed, and Eliode Clouvel, France’s 2016 Rio de Janeiro silver medalist.
“Pentashot will be our sponsor providing the winners with their prizes. The championship will be held daily for six hours.” Hefni said he was able to convince participants to keep in mind Ramadan hours in Muslim countries “so it will take place from 2:30pm to 5:30pm, then resume from 7:30pm to 11:30pm.”
Hefni said participation is free.“I think it will be great fun and we will have strange and funny surprises because sometimes the teens and young people are speedier than the elderly. I think that if this event is a success, I will go for a national competition only for Egyptians.”
Hefni thanked Sherif Al-Erian, president of the Egyptian Pentathlon Federation who, he said, gave him a helping hand in popularising the sport throughout Egypt.
“He did a tremendous effort at a time we cannot train or find enough equipment to practise.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 30 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly