BEIRUT: Considering the number of ski resorts in Lebanon, one would think the country would have produced at least one outstanding athlete skier who can compete with the best in the world.
Yet, the winter game has yet to really establish itself as a professional Lebanese sport, remaining for the most part a hobby rather than developing the more advanced organizational structure which produces international performers. With the World Ski Championships in full swing this weekend, the spotlight in Lebanon shifts to why the country cannot host any of the rounds.
The world championship series demands certain criteria that Lebanon simply doesn’t have right now – such as hospitals near the circuits. But if there is a will to develop the sport in this country, first Lebanon must be turned into a competitive destination. Such a transformation will take ardent efforts from the government, local federations, clubs and athletes.
International competitions have taken place in Lebanon in the past. Between 2004 and 2008 in particular, the Asian Youth Championship took place at The Cedars circuit, but in recent years the country’s slopes have been completely out of international action.
“The International Ski Federation [FIS] says the Lebanese downhill is of good [enough] quality to host competitions, which shows that we have the potential to develop our game if we aim to,” said Freddy Keiyrouz, former secretary-general of the Lebanese Ski Federation.
“The problem isn’t hard to indentify: We simply have no professional system in Lebanon,” he said, which “means the skiers are not devoted to practice all the time as they receive no financial resources in return.
“We used to have around 60 skiers in the children’s level, but the number reduces to only 10 in the junior level. The reason is that youngsters will conconcentrate on their futures instead – that isn’t in this field for sure,” noted Keiyrouz.
Lebanon, however, has had a few skiers who have participated in international competitions, including the last Winter Olympics in Austria, and achieved relatively good results considering their level of training and limited financial resources.
“We had not bad results in comparison to what [resources] we have. A few years ago we had Chirine Njeim who used to train in the United States. She finished in 35th place in the world championship which includes 60 participants, but unfortunately she had problems with the federation back then and she stopped.
“We should not forget that Lebanon has just two to three months of snow, while other countries, like Russia, Canada and Germany, have snow all year round.
“Because of that, we are obliged to send our skiers to train outside [of Lebanon] during the summer, and as a former member of the federation, I can tell you that we can do that once a year but we can’t afford to do it more often,” explained Keiyrouz.
“There’s a responsibility also on the current federation; they are not making any effort to get funds or sponsorship to host tournaments,” he added.
Meanwhile, the first round of the Lebanese alpine ski championship in slalom and giant slalom took place over a week ago at The Cedars circuit. Natasha Mokhbat dominated the women’s competitions despite being only 18 years old, while her brother Alexander Mokhbat, 16, won the giant slalom for youths. Tarek Vinianos clinched the gold in the men’s giant slalom.
If clubs in professional team sports make up the core of any game, the role of the skiing clubs is no less important.
Almost 30 clubs are registered to the Lebanese Ski Federation, but only 10 are in action – most notably The Cedars Club, Sporting Faraya, Mzaar Club, Sporting Taadod and Sporting Mayrouba.
“Unfortunately, the clubs are also lacking financial resources to fund their programs. The good thing is there are still people such as Charbel Salame [owner of Sports Experts], who supports the athletes with equipment, and Issam Moubarak, a former member of the federation,” revealed Keiyrouz.
“We have 30 clubs, but only few of them are active. The rest are just for elections purposes and this is a shame.
“The International Ski Federation is ready to give Lebanon the right to host one of the grass ski rounds during the summer. But this is also reliant upon the hard work of the federation supported by the Ministry of Sports and Youth.”
Riad Haddad, Lebanon’s junior team head coach, believes that there is ample talent here to compete internationally in youth ranks, but the simple fact is that when the juniors become adults, they can no longer rely on their parents for financial stability.
“The real problem is that we are doing very well concerning the juniors, but when they are over 18 years old, they choose to become monitors instead [of competitors] since the other won’t earn them financial return,” said Haddad
“As a coach at Sporting Faraya club, I can tell you that we have room to improve. But there are some conditions for that: Money is essential to fund programs and bring foreign coaches to train our skiers.
“We barely have coaches who can teach slalom, for example. That’s why the clubs are lately bringing foreign coaches and it’s paying off.
“Our juniors had good results in the Asian games. We are always finishing among the top, and once we were fourth. So it just needs a little push.”
February 25, 2012 02:19 AM
By Dany Abboud
The Daily Star
Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb