Tokyo chosen to host the 2025 World Track Championships
RIYADH: On Saturday, Ons Jabeur stood at Center Court at Wimbledon and tearfully wished people around the world a happy Eid Al-Adha.
Throughout the Arab world, and beyond, there has been a collective breaking of hearts. Almost a week into the Wimbledon Ladies final loss to Elena Rybakina, and those hearts may be starting to heal.
And the Minister of Happiness smiles again.
On Wednesday, she was greeted as a hero on her return to Tunisia, and a day later received the Order of Merit from the country’s president, Kais Saied.
Professionally, the world No. 2 – despite becoming the first Arab and African to reach a Grand Slam final – will no doubt carry the scars of that defeat for quite a while longer.
But, in time, she – and her fans – will look back on those two weeks in south-west London as a monumental and joyful achievement.
It is always better to avoid hyperbole, but it is clear that the Tunisian hero is one of the greatest Arab athletes of all time, if not the greatest.
While a select few may lay claim to the title, what Jabeur has done in his sport over the past two years is arguably unmatched by any other Arab man or woman, perhaps with the exception of Egyptian footballer Mohamed Salah.
Certainly, in an individual sport, few can match his exploits.
Of course, there have been some supreme, albeit rare, Arab feats at the Olympic and international level.
Who can forget Morocco’s Nawal Al-Moutawakel’s charge to win the first-ever women’s 400-meter hurdles at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, followed by her tearful crowning of the podium?
Or the legendary victories in the 800 meters and 5,000 meters of his compatriot Saïd Aouita in the same matches 38 years ago?
Another Moroccan, Khalid Skah, won a memorable 10,000 meter gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Games, while Algerian Noureddine Morceli won the 1,500 meter gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics. in 1996, as well as three world titles over the distance. He also held the world records for the 1,500 and 3,000 meters.
But while these other North African athletes have peaked at high-level Olympics and are rightly considered legends in their own country and in the Arab world, they seem to belong to a bygone era. None have had the worldwide name recognition that Jabeur now enjoys.
Medals during the 2000s were rare for Arab athletes, an indictment of the systems which, with the proper funding and support, could produce champions, but all too predictably and unfortunately do not. whether for political, cultural or economic reasons. the reasons.
At the delayed 2020 Japanese Olympics last year, Arab athletes won 18 medals. Impressive only in that it was a record, beating the previous mark of just eight at the 2004 Games in Athens.
There were outstanding performances; Egypt’s Hedaya Malak won a gold medal in the women’s taekwondo, while Saudi Arabia’s Tarek Hamdi was cruelly denied a sensational gold medal in the men’s karate competition due to a disqualification in final. His money was still enough to see him go home a hero.
And there was Jabeur’s compatriot, Ahmed Hafnaoui, the talented 18-year-old who stunned the world by winning gold in the 400m freestyle in swimming.
But even with the best will in the world, these outstanding achievements did not elevate these young champions to world fame. At least not yet.
Jabeur, meanwhile, is now one of the most famous characters on the planet.
But is image, popularity and goodwill enough to make her the best Arab athlete of all time?
Of course not. But her results on the field make her a candidate.
Ironically, after losing such a prestigious final, what Jabeur is doing is normalizing the victory of an Arab tennis player, an Arab athlete. Normalize being one of the best in his field the same way footballers Salah and Riyadh Mahrez became among the best in the world in theirs.
What sets Jabeur apart is that she rises to the top of one of the most popular individual sports in the world. And when was the last time the same could be said of an Arab athlete?
Jabeur made history as the first Tunisian, Arab or African to win a Women’s Tennis Association 1000 title when she won the Madrid Open in May, her second WTA title.
His clear and utter devastation after losing the Wimbledon final showed how far Jabeur has come and how quickly our expectations, and his, have risen in such a short time. She believed it was “her title,” and that’s the mentality needed to be a champion.
For too long, this part of the world has, with few exceptions, been content to participate.
The first man to compete in this, the very first woman in that, the first in the Olympics, and so on. But as we celebrate these important but ultimately small milestones, the rest of the world is racing ahead in terms of excellence.
Now is the time to compete and win at the highest level and in that sense, Jabeur not only moved the line, but erased it as well.
For Arab athletes, the mere fact of participating should not be commensurate with their ambition. And for that, we have to thank the Minister of Happiness.