CAIRO: Nothing gets the patriotic adrenalin going more than wars and sport. Thank God, we’re not involved in the former which makes the Pan-Arab Games and All-Africa Games, both to be played this year, the battles which will rally us around the flag.
Egypt has a historical padlock on the Pan-Arab Games.
We did not participate in the 2nd, 5th and 6th editions of the Games – political turmoil, financial difficulties and the other little distractions of life kept us away – but when Egypt has played it has been perennially a walk in the park.
All together Egypt has collected 985 medals, the most of any country by a country mile. Second on the all-time list is Syria with 692 medals, Algeria 624; Morocco 589; Tunisia, 513.
Early in the Games Egypt’s dominance was particularly awesome. In the first Games in Alexandria in 1953 it was Egypt 122 medals, followed by Lebanon’s 34. The gold medal race was a no-contest: 67 for Egypt, three for Lebanon.
In Games No 4, the gap widened: Egypt 137, Iraq 38. Seventy gold were garnered by Egypt, nine for Iraq. Egypt’s biggest haul was 264 medals, in Amman 1999. Tunisia was a distant second with 136 medals.
The only time Egypt played bridesmaid was in the seventh Games in Damascus when the host country came out ahead with 114 medals to Egypt’s 96.
In the last Games, in Algeria 2004, it was you know who on tops again with 171 medals to Tunisia’s 132.
Egypt is a shoo-in to top the table again this year, more so because we are the hosts.
However, this year’s All-Africa Games, to be staged in Algeria in July, present a different proposition altogether. While in the eight Africa Games played so far Egypt leads the way with 904 medals (Nigeria 836, South Africa 509, Algeria 473 and Tunisia 362) that’s only half the story; the second half is not as rosy.
Egypt was champion outright just twice, the first one in 1965.
In 1973, Nigeria had more medals but Egypt more gold. In 1978 Egypt did not play. In 1987 Tunisia had more medals but Egypt trumped in the gold.
The only time Egypt hosted the Games, in 1991, it finished No 1 with 195 medals to Nigeria’s 137. It would be the last time Egypt would stand so tall. In Zimbabwe in 1995, South Africa, having finally given up its apartheid policies, was invited to the Games for the first time.
We wish they hadn’t.
They tied Egypt for most medals at 154 but with 64 gold to Egypt’s 61 they were crowned kings.
In 1999 Egypt dropped to third behind South Africa and Nigeria.
The last Games, in Abuja, Nigeria 2003, were calamitous. Two Egyptian chess players died from malaria. Host Nigeria was declared the winner, or at least declared itself the winner, 231 medals to Egypt’s 218.
But in some sports there were only two nations playing, Nigeria and somebody else, when five is the minimum. And after combining three or four disciplines into one event in which only one gold medal was initially given, the hosts were able to collect seven extra gold medals.
Some would say it doesn’t matter who wins these Games which are meant more to celebrate unity with our Arab and African cousins. We’re not so sure. There s plenty of room for jingoism in both these Games.
True, they might act as a fusion of countries, but let s leave naiveté at the starting line. These Games are also a time to remember differences, not similarities.
There is good and evil in all of us. We will cheer and we will jeer.