Brazil successfully hosted the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and other cities from Aug. 5-21.
With 46 gold, 37 silver and 38 bronze medals, the US topped the medal tally. Great Britain came second with 27 gold medals and China took third position with 26 golds.
So how did the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) perform in the Rio Games?
As in previous Olympics, OIC member countries performed poorly in Rio. Eighteen members won medals, with only nine countries — Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkey and Uzbekistan — winning a total of 16 out of the 307 gold medals at stake. Uzbekistan topped the list with four golds.
Another 29 silver and 44 bronze medals were also won. Kuwaiti shooters, competing under the IOC banner, meanwhile, won one gold and one bronze medal.
Although the 57 OIC members have been participating in the Olympic Games for many decades, 33 countries have never won a gold medal, with 20 never winning any medals at all!
We have around 2 billion Muslims worldwide and they constitute 25 percent of the world’s 7 billion people, but their role in the world sports arena is a very small one.
What is wrong with Muslims and OIC member states in the field of sports? Look at the top-three winners at the Rio Olympics — the US, Great Britain and China — and consider the major factors behind their success.
Believe it or not, women have been the key to success in the Olympics for many decades. More than 50 percent of all medals won by the top-three winners in the London Olympics were won by female athletes. American sportswomen, for example, contributed 28 of the country’s 46 gold medals.
Only two women athletes from OIC countries — Bahrain’s Jebet Ruth (in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase) and Indonesia’s Liliyana Natsir (badminton) — won gold medals this year.
In the Rio Olympics, the US fielded a large contingent of 550 athletes, including 292 women. In the US Olympic team, hijab-wearing Muslim woman fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad won a bronze medal.
Although women constitute almost 50 percent of their populations, Muslim countries send very few female athletes to the Olympics. Twelve countries sent only one female athlete to Brazil, 15 countries sent two each, and seven countries three each. Iraq, meanwhile, did not send a single woman to Rio.
The achievements of women athletes from Muslim countries were outstanding in the Rio Games, Maljinda Kelmindi, a judo athlete from Kosovo, won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for her country. Likewise Bahrain’s Ruth created history by winning the first-ever gold medal for her country in Rio. Shuttler Susi Susanti won the first-ever Olympic gold medal for Indonesia in Barcelona in 1992.
The first female Muslim athlete to take part in the Olympic Games — in Berlin in 1936 — was Turkish fencer Halet Cambel. Morocco’s Nawal El Moutawakel was the first Muslim woman to win an Olympic gold medal (in the 400-meters hurdle) in Los Angeles in 1984.
Women in many Muslim countries face discrimination as well as harassment over their choice of sportswear and discouragement in the fields of sports, arts, education and culture, despite the fact that Islam encourages men and women to acquire knowledge, to be healthy and to stay fit.
“Their [Muslim women’s] biggest hurdle preventing girls from taking up sports is religious extremism, particularly for those living in conservative Muslim countries. Although there is nothing in the Quran forbidding women and girls from exercising and playing sports, religious scholars are making Islam more restrictive than it should be through misinterpretations,” said noted women’s rights activist Shaista Gohir on the Huffington Post website recently.
In an effort to encourage sports among Muslims, the OIC established the Islamic Sports Federation to conduct the Islamic Solidarity Games. The first Games were held in 2005 in Saudi Arabia and Indonesia hosted the third Games in Palembang in 2013. The next Games will be held in Baku in 2017. However, the standards at these Games still remain relatively low.
Another big mistake that OIC members make is poor selection of sports and strategy. Learning from leading sports nations, it is clear they focus too much on multi-medal events rather than concentrating on more specialized events that offer fewer medals.
With a greater focus on women athletes and better strategies, hopefully OIC member states will shine in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
This article was published in the OIC Journal August-November 2016 (latest issue) Page 41, and is reprinted with permission.