Athletes aspire to bring honor to war-torn countries at Asian Games

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For athletes from turbulent west Asian countries, the upcoming Asian Games is not only a competition to display individual athletic prowess, but also an opportunity to bring honor to countries scarred by war and conflict.

Abdullah al-Arqan, a Palestinian beach volleyball player who lives in the Gaza Strip, has grown up amid countless military tensions between armed Palestinian factions and Israel.

"Every time we survived each conflict, I felt that it was another message to me that I have to continue my plan and work to achieve my dream," said the 20-year-old, who has witnessed four large-scale military operations in the Palestinian enclave.

Ever since he was a child, Al-Arqan dreamed of representing Palestine in an international tournament.

His hard work paid off, as he and his Palestinian teammates succeeded in winning bronze medals in two Arab tournaments held in Qatar in 2022 and 2023.

"I was so proud of myself, as well as my team which was born in the suffering," Al-Arqan said.

"The latest magic win in Qatar encouraged me to make a greater effort to compete in the Asian Games and raise the Palestinian flag in a country I have always dreamed of visiting," he said.

For athletes from war-torn Syria, taking part in the Asian Games is already hard-won.

"Sanctions have greatly affected the players, and have had a significant impact on Syria both economically and politically, including the sporting sector," said Muhammad al-Hayek, member of the Executive Office and Head of the Athletics Office.

"There are many difficulties in securing visas to travel abroad, or even obtaining foreign currency. If we want to organize an external training camp or participate in any event, we need overseas approval."

Due to fuel shortages, the Arab country in December last year temporarily suspended all sporting competitions in government-held areas, where nationwide power cuts could last up to 22 hours per day.

Man Asaad, a 29-year-old weightlifter who clinched a bronze medal at Tokyo 2020, said, "Our economic situation is difficult. But that makes us more determined to achieve and present a positive image of our country and its people."

"The athletes are part of the Syrian people who withstood and overcome their problems. Even if we don't have external training camps, we make training camps inside the country and we have the strength to hoist our country's flag in international arenas," al-Hayek said.

Wushu athlete Tharwat Mahyoub Al-Sindi of Yemen started preparing for the Games three years ago, plunging himself into rigorous and intensive training schedule with the aim of winning a gold medal.

Al-Sindi's passion for Wushu began in 2013 when he joined a private club in Yemen's capital Sanaa, and started participating in local tournaments, securing second place in the Yemen Wushu Championship in May 2014, months before the country's civil war broke out.

In May, Al-Sindi won the gold medal in the Sanda (52 kg) category at the eighth Arab Championship in Rabat, Morocco. He aspires to replicate this achievement at the Asian Games and potentially make history as the first Yemeni athlete to win a gold medal in this event. 

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