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On the Ball: ‘Sports unites people from diverse culture’
December 16, 2018 | 5:10 PM
by Gautam Viswanathan
Husain Al Musallam
 
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Director of the Olympic Council of Asia Husain Al Musallam shares his experiences as an athlete and the importance of discipline in sports

Husain Al Musallam is a man who has seen it all, having enjoyed a career that most athletes set out to attain, but few ever achieve. Al Musallam’s first professional experience with sports came at the tender age of six, when he signed up for the Kazma Sport Club in his native Kuwait. In an exclusive interview with Times of Oman, Kuwait’s Al Musallam, Director of the Olympic Council of Asia, shared his experiences as an athlete and an administrator of sports.

Al Musallam loved swimming, and took to the pool as naturally as a duck (or in this case, man) takes to water. He would go on to represent Kuwait at the Pan-Arab, Asian and World Championships between 1974 and 1976, having first been drafted into his nation’s swim team in 1973, before joining the Olympic Council of Asia in 1984, in a career parallel to his regular job working for Kuwait Airways.

“Well, sports is very important for unity, and you know that the world is diverse. You can say that sports unites people from diverse cultures, politics, and religions because when everyone comes to play sports, they follow one rule,” he explained. “For example, whether a swimmer comes from Cameroon or from Japan, he swims the 100-metre freestyle under one rule."



“They follow one method of training in Cameroon, as do the Chinese or the British swimmers,” added Al Musallam. “That is why sports unites people, whether they come for a competition, a meet, or for any event. This is why sports is important, especially during this time, when there are a lot of political challenges.”

A specialist in the breaststroke discipline, Al Musallam won many titles at national and Gulf regional levels across the 100 metres, 200 metres, and 200 metres individual medley between 1973 and 1977. He’s learned much as an athlete, and said the next generation of sportspersons needed to realise that making it to the top was not easy.



“As an athlete, I learned how to behave, to be on time and to respect others. I learned to understand others and my coach,” explained Al Musallam. “I learned how to understand my friends, my doctors and the officials as well. Understanding my opponents who competed against me was also something that was important, especially in terms of what they were good and bad at. If I am an athlete, I must respect my opponent when he beats me; I must learn to respect all my opponents,” he added.

“If my coach tells me to come to the pool at seven in the morning, then I must be there at 7am, and not at 7.30 because I was stuck in traffic.”

Al Musallam was also quick to praise legendary Omani goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi, who became the first Arab from the GCC to play in the English Premier League, widely considered to be the world’s most competitive football leagues.

He hoped that other young athletes in the region would follow in his footsteps. Al Habsi now plays for Saudi club Al Hilal, where he is widely loved by people across the six GCC nations – Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

“Without discipline, you cannot move forward, even if you are talented,” explained Al Musallam. “In sports, you need to train daily, and in some sports, such as swimming, you sometimes need to train even twice a day. You need to do power training three or four times a week, you need to run, you need to attend competitions every month, and you have to take this time out from the 24 hours you have in a day."

“One-third of your time will go towards training, one-third towards sleeping, and one-third towards your studies and homework, so this takes a big toll on your personal life,” he added. “Then, there is the question of culture. If an athlete wants to train, he will find a way, but the majority of them face constraints.”

Al Musallam shared his own personal experiences of athletes he had trained with and how they would give excuses for why they didn’t train hard enough, especially when they were in a position of privilege afforded to few. He felt, though, that culture played a big role in athletes being laid-back when it came to training. “For example, if today is Thursday, we have to gather at my grandfather’s home,” said Al Musallam, running through the sort of excuses given by athletes.

“Tomorrow is Friday, we have to go to my aunt’s home, and on Saturday, we have to go for a picnic by the sea, so the 24 hours of training are gone. On Sunday, there is school, so there is always some excuse, not because of the athlete, but the culture.”

“When it comes to athletes such as Al Habsi, I hope others will follow his path, because it is important to develop sports and become a model for young, future athletes, and I think each country, within their national and Olympic system, should hold on to these people even if they finish their sports careers, as an inspiration for future generations,” he added.

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