July 1, 2012
Anti-Assad protesters wave Syrian revolution flags at a London Olympics qualifying soccer match; that's not the same flag that lone Syrian equestrian Ahmad Hamcho will display at the London Olympic Games show jumping.
Until last week, the most political aspect of the equestrian sports at the London 2012 Olympics was that one of Team USA?s dressage team horses is partly owned by Ann Romney, wife of the presumptive Republican candidate for US President, Mitt Romney.
The horse--and the entire sport of dressage along with it--became the brunt of jokes by Comedy Central comedian Stephen Colbert. Every cent the Romneys spent on the horse, as detailed on their taxes, was analyzed by the press.
But everyone was laughing.
Last week we learned that a college student living in London will represent his nation at the Games in show jumping. He commutes to Germany, where his horses are in training, and his name is Ahmad Saber Hamcho.
Ahmad will represent his home country of Syria in the Olympic equestrian events at London's Greenwich Park for the Olympic show jumping.
No one is laughing.
Other than the fact that Mrs Romney is part owner of one of our dressage team horses, the political leanings of riders and owners connected to the US team are not something you hear about on the news.
But when Ahmad Saber Hamcho spoke last month in London, he set the stage for the possibility of a lot more media attention on Greenwich Park than anyone had expected.
Ahmad Hamcho via the London Evening Standard
If you watch international news, you know about the bloody events taking place in Syria, and that the world is in a delicate juggling act over potential action against the Syrian government by the United Nations, or even possible unilateral action. But months have gone by with little effect, and the New York Times estimates are that over 3,000 civilians and revolutionaries died in Syria during the month of June alone.
Ten athletes will represent Syria at London. But it was the youngest, showjumper Ahmad Hamcho, who spoke on behalf of the entire team, when he informed the world during a statement in?The Times
(London)?newspaper, ?We must represent the Syrian people and we must also represent Dr Bashar al-Assad, who is still our President. We all agree on this point of view as a team.?
Ahmad?s statement was not well-received by anti-Assad activists in London. A petition to stop Ahmad Hamcho from being allowed to ride in the Olympics
has been posted on the change.org web site.
The story of Ahmad?s--and Syria?s--involvement in the Olympics is complex. For instance, the BBC announced last week that the head of the Syrian Olympic Committee, General Mowaffak Joumaa, will not be allowed to enter Great Britain
, in accordance with current British sanctions against Syria.
To make things even more complicated, Ahmad?s father will not be allowed into Great Britain either. From the Telegraph
:??(Ahmad?s) father Mohammed, a Sunni businessman, has been denied entry to the UK to watch his son due to EU sanctions over his alleged cronyism and corruption. He is also accused of fronting Assad?s younger brother Maher, who has been a key figure in quashing the uprisings. Mr Hamcho denied the allegations against his father.?
Ahmad the Equestrian
According to the Global Champions Tour, in which Ahmad was ranked 57th this year
, Ahmad is 19 years old and won the Sharjah World Cup Qualifier in the United Arab Emirates this year. He had eight horses listed as his mounts through the GCT.
Ahmad finished a close second in the Speed Derby on June 23 at the Hickstead Jumping Derby
; he received rousing applause from the audience, as recorded on the YouTube video. The crowd either didn't know or care about his politics. They were just applauding for his thrilling speed round.
Ahmad Hamcho will ride a gray warmblood gelding named Wonderboy III
?at London.?He was purchased from British team rider Ben Maher
in May 2010, according to Horse and Hound
Ahmad represents the Syrian Equestrian Federation
and will be the first equestrian to represent his country. He will be one of the youngest equestrians competing at London. Reed Kessler, who is short-listed for Team USA in showjumping, is younger than Ahmad.
It is hard to imagine that the United Nations will be able to effect an immediate change in Syria before the Olympics. Meanwhile, in London, a young man intends to jump his horse at Greenwich Park under his nation's current flag--with the whole world watching.
Someone in the mainstream press last week asked a great question: if Ann Romney?s horse wins a medal in London, will only Republicans in the USA cheer? We know that the horse world won't judge the horse by its owner--or judge it any less harshly.
But if Ahmad Saber Hamcho does or does not ride in London--or does or does not win a medal--will it make any difference to the suffering people in his country? Probably not.
Yet politics may try to make a point about of a boy and a horse and a flag when the actual truth is that when and if the president of Syria does step down, Ahmad Saber Hamcho may well be an equestrian without a country.
To learn more:
Telegraph: Syrian Olympics athlete declares steadfast support for Bashar al-Assad
London Evening Standard
: Olympic storm greets Syrian showjumper
Please note that Ahmad?s last name is sometimes spelled ?Hamsho?, which is also how it is pronounced. Protestor photo via Freedom House on Flickr.com.
Fran Jurga is a freelance writer and editor from Gloucester, Massachusetts. Her award-winning blogs include?The Jurga Report for EQUUS Magazine?and?War Horse News?on the 2011 Steven Spielberg film. Fran is the founder of?Hoofcare and Lameness Journal?and writes a specialist?Hoof Blog.? Fran wrote the?WorldRides blog for the Hong Kong equestrian events of the 2008 Beijing Olympics?and the Discover WEG blog for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in 2010.
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