BEIRUT: The Lebanese Sports Scholar Network held its inaugural meeting Saturday at the American University in Beirut, bringing together a wide range of interested parties from around the field of sports sciences. Danyel Reiche – a founding member of the group, an associate professor of comparative politics at AUB and author of “Success and failure of countries at the Olympic games” – told The Daily Star, “We want everybody with an academic interest in sports [to join], which I would define as anybody with an interest beyond the final score, regardless of nationality or profession.”
Reiche believes that sports have the potential to affect numerous positive changes in Lebanese society. “Sport is more than a hobby, it’s a serious academic profession. Sport can help society to develop, to bring people together, to contribute to a healthier lifestyle,” he said.
In order to help build interest and participation in sports, Reiche thinks that money should be invested at the grassroots level. “I think it’s better to invest in a bottom-up [approach] and help young people in the country do sports.”
At the same time, he is critical of large amounts of money being spent on hosting large sporting events that do not incorporate a long-term plan to benefit Lebanese society. “I think we should only have mega sporting events in Lebanon if they are accompanied with a legacy management program, which means that there are benefits for the country. The Beirut Marathon is a good example because they did not only bring elite runners, they engaged the society – all the schools participated. This is a success story and the country should learn from it.”
While no representative of the Youth and Sports Ministry attended the meeting, Sami Garabedian, director of athletics at the Lebanese American University, considered the group’s inception positive, with or without participation from the government. “I think Lebanon is in dire need of a group of people who are really interested – just for the love of sport – to actually get things done,” he said.
Garabedian has just returned from Australia, where he accompanied five young Lebanese Rugby League players as they trained alongside their Lebanese-Australian teammates during the Rugby League World Cup, during which Lebanon defied the odds to reach the quarterfinals, ultimately losing to a strong Tonga side.
Garabedian is positive about the future of Lebanon’s next generation of athletes, but acknowledges that it will not be easy to return Lebanese sports to its heyday. “We need to improve on the way of thinking about Lebanese sports, because ... Lebanon had a great sports past and I think it’s high time we got it back. It’s not going to be easy, it’s an arduous task and we need to work hard on it, but we all have to work in unison,” he said.
Key to such success will be cooperation within the industry – something that will be facilitated by groups like the LESSN. “If the people in this meeting put their resources together ... we could go a long way,” he said.