MORE TO GYMNATICS THAN MEETS THE EYE
May 18, 2015
When you think of gymnastics it conjures up images of athletes flying through the air in what appear to be death defying feats of braveness.
It has become one of the world’s blue chip sports. Arenas sell out across the world and tickets for Olympic seats at the gymnastics venue are like gold dust.
But what you rarely see is how many years of dedication have gone into making the end product that we marvel at on our television screens.
The Jordan Olympic Committee paid a visit to the Jordan Gymnastics Federation to discover much more than a sport. We discovered a family.
The well equipped headquarters is a testimony to two decades of hard work. We were greeted by children as young as three learning discipline and manners, right through to retired national team members now ploughing their time back into the sport as coaches.
The gymnastics story mirrors that of many Jordanian sporting federations. It was idling along until HRH Princess Rahma Bint Hassan grabbed it by the scruff in 1995 and steered it on a path to becoming an internationally recognised centre of excellence.
Twenty years later and the sport has spawned champions on an Arab, Asian and World level as well as a foundation for the sport to flourish over the coming years.
"We are really proud of what has been achieved over the past 20 years or so,” said Nuha Hattar, Secretary General of the JGF. "We consider ourselves a family. As you can see here we have children starting out on their journey in the sport as well as retired National Team members who spend hours on end giving back to the sport as coaches.”
Those coaches that Nuha refers to are not your average sportsmen and women. She points out that all of them have come through their schooling with distinction including Jad Mazahreh, a former World Cup winner who has recently graduated with a Masters degree. He is not alone as we are introduced to former players with degrees in engineering, physio therapy, finance and so on.
"It is an important aspect of what we do here,” explained Nuha. "We have these athletes from such a young age, so we have to ensure that their education remains a priority. It goes to show as well that sport and a good education can mix.
"The safety and well being of our athletes is also of paramount importance and that is in the forefront of our minds in whatever we do here. Gymnastics in the wrong hands can be dangerous , but we are proud of our safety record in this regard.”
Through prudent spending and fund raising, the Federation boasts one of the best facilities across the Arab World. From a baby gym teaching basic techniques to 3-7 years olds to the main hall where the elite ply their trade, the Federation does its utmost to provide the best opportunities possible.
"We are consistently cleaning and carrying out maintenance every single day which we fund ourselves to ensure it looks as good as new,” said Nuha. "We also have a facility for parents as we don’t allow them in the hall whilst their children are practicing.”
On the far wall of the gym, there are pictures of Jordan’s past champions including Yasmin Kheir, who epitomizes another aspect of how gymnastics has made a difference to the sporting community as a whole.
"Yasmin was a fantastic gymnastics champion and as she got older she went on to become a leading player in the National women’s football team,” said Nuha. "We have also developed youngsters who went on to become champions in swimming and taekwondo, which makes us immensely proud.”
As well as a lovely family feel, there is also an obvious harmony at the Federation. The sport has avoided the sorts of negative headlines that emerge from other Federations and, perhaps, gymnastics has an answer and some advice to how this can happen?
"None of us on the board were gymnastic experts!” said Nuha, who doubles up as a Jordan bridge team player. "Not a single member of the board has any financial interest or conflict with the sport. Each brings their own area of expertise to the table and we leave the running of the sport to the coaches and officials that we have working within the Federation.”
With more than 60 boys and girls enjoying grassroots gymnastics and a healthy number also reported in the Federation’s facility in Zarqa, you can sense gymnastics is a sport in Jordan with a big future with future plans for Irbid.
But one thing’s for sure, that future will involve a lot of hard work both inside, and outside, the gymnasium.