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Libya targetting Rio Games for first medal

02-22-2012 14:00 BJT

TRIPOLI - Libya's Olympic chief is targetting the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro for the country's first medal as he attempts to overcome the years of sporting neglect under Muammar Gaddafi's regime.

Nabil Elalem, president of the Libyan Olympic Committee, said the North African country hoped to send a team of nine to this year's Games in London, to compete in judo, taekwondo, weightlifting and swimming.

However, he thought there was little chance of medals, in part because last year's eight-month war that toppled Gaddafi hampered training.

"In London it will be quite difficult. We are a wounded nation, we are just recovering," the former Libyan judo champion told Reuters in an interview on Monday.

"But taking part in the Olympics is a clear message to the world that we are there; this is the new face of Libya, and we promise you to be future Olympic champions. We are very optimistic about that but we need to change the philosophy, the approach towards sports.

"We didn't have remarkable results in the Olympics. In recent years, we improved a lot in terms of qualifying for the Olympics," Elalem said. "By Rio, we are looking for bronze in weight lifting, taekwondo or judo."

For years under Gaddafi's rule, athletes and sports officials put up with state meddling, as well as restrictions on travel and underfunding, he said.

Soccer captain

Gaddafi's family and inner circle controlled almost all of Libya's most high-profile institutions and had interests in virtually all the most lucrative contracts. His son Saadi was for a time captain of the national soccer team.

Elalem took charge of Libya's Olympic body after its president Mohammed Gaddafi, another of Gaddafi's sons, fled to Algeria in August.

With Gaddafi and his sons gone, he is optimistic Libya's new leaders will pay more attention to sport, which he thinks can heal a nation scarred by war.

"Sport in the Gaddafi days was not an important sector," he said. "We need to overcome all those bad feelings and one of the best tools is sport. We need to build a healthy nation."

He said the sector needed a complete overhaul so that coaches and sports doctors could be trained efficiently.

"The most important thing is that we are free now. Being free we can do whatever in the future to build new sports," he said.

"First we need a vision, clear targets, then strategies, and then we go for those plans - we will translate the strategies into actions."

He said Libya's Olympic Committee, which was formed in 1962, had received support, including financial aid, from the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Special support

"We have good relations and support from the IOC. They supported us through the difficult days after the revolution," he said. "We are still discussing some special support to boost... athletes' levels."

Elalem said Libyans hoping to compete in the London Games were going abroad to train, in part because the country lacks facilities. He cited Italy, Czech Republic, Tunisia, Korea and Kenya as potential training spots.

"It was very difficult for them to train. They (the Gaddafi regime) asked us to organize through the federations competitions to send a message to the world that we are OK, but we refused to do that, we used excuses," he said, referring to last year's war.

Those excuses included saying athletes were too busy training but Elalem said it was difficult to keep going.

"Some athletes were outside the country and we kept them there. Most of them were here and it was difficult for them psychologically. Every day you would see people dying."

Gaddafi did not like sports personalities because he feared they would draw the national spotlight away from him, and for a time soccer players could only be referred to on television by their number. Now, Elalem hopes to build a culture of personalities who can promote sport in the oil-producing country.

"Before, there were no stars in Libya, there was only one star: Gaddafi. Now, if we have a good champion in judo, taekwondo or weight lifting, he will promote sports in Libya," Elalem said.

"We are very optimistic to rebuild sport, and I promise, in 10 years time you will see Libyan champions in the Olympics if everything goes as we plan."

Editor:Zhang Jianfeng |Source: China Daily

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