BEIRUT: Lebanon has limited experience competing in team sports at the Olympic Games. The basketball team came short of achieving its first Olympic appearance at Beijing in 2008, having failed at the last stage in the FIBA Asia Championship in 2007, losing 72-67 to Iran in the finals. The national football team has not come close to getting through the qualification rounds with the team’s quality of play declining over the past few years.
Much like their basketball counterparts, Lebanon’s volleyball and handball teams are currently in a rebuilding phase.However, a question has been raised about the position of Lebanon one year prior to the London 2012 Olympics, especially concerning the basketball squad, which is the onlyLebanese team poised to have a chance at the games. The Cedars are currently preparing for the upcoming FIBA Asia Championship in Wuhan-China, from Sept. 15 to Sept. 25, but the team has already made life unnecessarily hard for themselves.
The preparations, that had started in early July under Champville’s coach Ghassan Sarkis at Dik al-Mehde court, have passed through many ups and downs, and Sarkis couldn’t field a complete team until the start of August for different reasons, mainly injuries and fatigue. Nevertheless, the absence of many experienced players such as Fadi al-Khatib – who is taking a well earned break from international basketball – and top points guards Ali Mahmoud and Rony Fahed, has left Lebanese fans worried.
In addition, the local basketball federation announced that they had reached agreements with American centers Darryl Watkins and Loren Woods several times but neither player carried through with their commitment to the team. The federation have finally signed fellow American Sam Hoskin (206cm/32 years), who joined the team in Qatar where the team participated in a three nations tournament alongside the host and Syria.
Personnel problems, however, are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you go to Champville’s court to watch the national team’s practice, it is easy to notice that the team is not well prepared or well supported. The players wore different and unofficial shirts for quite some time, and practiced on a rather slippery floor while training did not focus heavilyon tactics.
Considering Lebanon’s standing in the Asian game and their position as one of the Asian Championships favorites, they should have started their preparations sooner, with better conditions and facilities. The Lebanese team have barely played six games with a full squad, while other teams such as China, Iran and Jordan, are are confidently making the final touches to their rosters after extensive preparations.
“We are definitely late in our preparations” Sarkis told The Daily Star.
He explained: “I was nominated in early July, it was really a difficult task to convince the players to cut their vacations and come back, as many of them have been considering a break from the national team for a certain [number of] reasons.”
Sarkis has made it clear that his main goal is to prepare and train a competitive team for the Asian Championship in 2013 – where three teams will qualify for the World Championship in Spain – that is expected to be hosted in Lebanon.
But Sarkis is aware of the importance of having a good finish in Wuhan.
“I would stress that we will definitely take a very good team to Wuhan. [We want] a team that is willing to run the extra mile. But then there is no real fixed target for Wuhan. All that I [can] say is we want to play well and learn as many lessons as we can.”
However, the Lebanese basketball federation has faced serious problems trying to find funding to assist in the preparations of their national teams, as apart from the seniornational teams’ expected competitions, this summer is loaded with youth and women’s tournaments.
Fadi Tabet, a member of the FLB and head of national teams committee, has said: “We are working within our capabilities and this is maybe what most of the people do not know.”
He added: “If the government won’t take responsibility and share in the funding, what is the benefit of sports?”
The Ministry of Sports has agreed to send &500,000 to the basketball federation, however, the money has not yet been receivedby the federation.