Five athletes who put the Middle East on the sporting map
- The Middle East is not usually a region known for its athletes but these five professionals are breaking both records and barriers whilst dominating their sports
- The best known name in the world of football right now is the Egyptian, Mo Salah who plays for Liverpool
- The other athletes included in this list are powerlifter Mohammed Khamis Khalaf, swimmer Yusra Mardini, Olympic weightlifter Sana Samir Ahmed and Karate champion Mohammed Al Assiri
- These athletes have defied the odds to make history, inspiring a new generation
There has been a steady rise in the prominence of sport in the Middle East over the past decade,with numerous football leagues gaining traction along with other sports. The UAE recently held the special Olympics and hosts the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships - where Roger Federer recently reached a massive career milestone - along with the Dubai Desert Golf Championships every year.
This has lead to an increase in homegrown talent in the Middle East, with the next generation of young athletes seeking inspiration from the current superstars. These are the five most inspiring Middle Eastern athletes - breaking both records and barriers whilst dominating their sports.
1. Mohamed Salah - Egypt
Mo Salah plays as a winger for Liverpool FC in England’s Premier League. The Egyptian forward broke the record for most goals scored in a 38-game Premier League season with 32 goals in 36 games, cementing himself forever in the history books. Having single-handedly fired Egypt into the 2018 World Cup in Russia, he recieved the Premier League Player of the Season and African Footballer of the Year awards, amongst a host of other accolades, Salah did not stop there. Recently, Salah became the fastest Liverpool player to score 50 goals, following a strike against Southampton - joining an illustrious group of players including legends such as Fernando Torres, Michael Owen, and Robbie Fowler. Dubai's Crown Prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammad, presented Salah with the 'Outstanding Arab Athlete' award in 2019, during the 10th edition Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Creative Sports Award. With Liverpool currently pushing for their first Premier League title in 28 years, they will be looking for Mo Salah to deliver more of his magic.
2. Mohammed Khamis Khalaf - UAE
Powerlifter Mohammed Khamis Khalaf was the recipient of both of the UAE’s two gold medals at the Paralympics. As a child, Khalaf lost the use of his legs following his polio diagnosis, but he did not let that stop him. The Emirati has carried his nation in the Paralympics for over a decade, winning his first gold medal at the 2004 Paralympic games in Athens, before securing his second at the 2016 edition in the men’s 88kg powerlifting competition - lifting a colossal 220kg.
3. Yusra Mardini - Syria
The then 18 year-old swimmer took the 2016 Olympics by storm, competing for the first ever refugee team in Brazil. The brave teen fled Syria during the peak of the civil war along with millions of migrants - crossing the Atlantic and seeking refuge in Europe. A hero in her own right, Mardini rescued passengers on a sinking dinghy by swimming and pushing it forward. In 2017, UNHCR, the United Nations' Refugee Agency, announced the appointment of Mardini as a Goodwill Ambassador. Following the release of her autobiography titled "Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian - My Story of Rescue, Hope, and Triumph" in 2018, there is talk of her story hitting the big screens in a movie directed by Stephen Daldry.
4. Sara Samir Ahmed - Egypt
Olympic weightliftter Sana Ahmed secured a bronze medal in 2016, becoming the first female Egyptian athlete to win an Olympic medal in any sport. Ahmed originates from a family of Egyptian weightlifters, with her father and brother also competing in the sport. Not only did she secure one of Egypt’s solitary three Olympic medals, but she did it all whilst competing wearing a hijab; breaking records, barriers, and stereotypes.
5. Mohammed Al Assiri - Saudi Arabia
Aged 17, Al Assiri became a karate champion in the 61kg category of the competition in the 2016 Youth Olympics in Buenos Aires. This was a monumental victory for both Al Assiri and his nation as he won Saudi’s first ever gold medal since the Kingdom began participating in the Olympic Games in 1972. Fans were amazed as the youngster displayed calmness beyond his years - even after claiming the medal. Al Assiri cemented himself in the history books and continues to be one to watch considering his young age.
The future of sports in the Middle East looks bright, with an increasing number of big-name foreign athletes seeking a new challenge in the region. However, the region has produced athletes that have conquered and thrived at the pinnacle of their sports - regardless of the hardships they have faced on their paths to glory. The next generation of athletes undoubtedly have some fantastic role models to emulate, as the future looks very bright for the Middle East.