Sheikh Ahmed Hasher Al Maktoum had been a strong advocate for planning at grassroots level to achieve results at the Olympics arena. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: The UAE’s lone Olympic gold medallist Shaikh Ahmad Hasher Al Maktoum feels that the extra one year will give some of the country’s athletes more opportunity to make it to the now-postponed Tokyo 2020 Games next year.

Tokyo Organizing Committee President Yoshiro Mori announced on Monday that the opening ceremony of the Olympics will take place on July 23, 2021 - almost exactly one year after the Games were due to start this year. “That’s an extra 12 months for our athletes to try and qualify for the Olympic Games. It’s a shame that only two athletes have so far qualified from the UAE. With the facilities we have, the UAE needs to have more sportspersons making the Olympic standard,” Shaikh Ahmad told Gulf News.

“But all is not lost as our sportspersons now get an additional 12 months to try and make it to Tokyo next year,” he added.

As of now, the two Moldova-born judokas - Ivan Remarenco and Victor Scvortov – have assured themselves a place in Tokyo on behalf of the UAE. Scvortov will be competing in the men’s 73 kg category while Remarenco will be in the men’s -100 kg category.

Sergiu Touma, who won bronze in Rio.

“All the officials in-charge, be it the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare or the UAE NOC, are speaking about the postponement of the Olympics. That’s simply because suddenly the athletes have got this grace period of a few more months to qualify,” he asserted.

“For the next few months, the media will stay away from these officials who just keep on talking without paying any attention to either the actual qualifying process or to ensure the country has a proper sporting infra-structure in place starting with the grassroots. No one wants to come up with the tools or find any solution why athletes in the UAE can’t even make the cut,” Shaikh Ahmad lashed out.

In Rio, the UAE squad consisted of 13 athletes – nine men and four women – competing in six different disciplines. Among these 13 were five naturalized athletes, including the three judokas – Scvortov, Remarenco and Sergiu Toma, who won bronze – and two Ethiopian-born distance runners, Alia Saeed Mohammad and Betlhem Desalegn. Four years earlier, the UAE had sent a contingent of 26 athletes for the 2012 London Games and returned empty-handed.

“I have shown the way towards an Olympic medal. Unfortunately, there are no shortcuts. I started serious training in 1998 and won a medal only six years later through sheer hard work and dedication. Today, we don’t have even a single emirati qualifying for the next Olympics,” Ahmad noted.

UAE’s ninth Olympics

Tokyo will be the ninth appearance for the UAE at a Summer Olympics. The UAE National Olympic Committee (UAE NOC) was formed in 1979 and recognised by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1980. The country made its debut at the 1984 Los Angeles Games but had to wait for a full 20 years to win its first-ever medal – a gold in the double trap shooting – through Shaikh Ahmad at the 2004 Games in Athens.

The UAE’s next medal came at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Games when judoka Sergiu Toma landed a bronze in the men’s 81 kg category.