Olympic Medal Won By Foreigner Sparks Debate In UAE

Sergiu Toma of United Arab Emirates celebrates victory over Matteo Marconcini of Italy in the Men's -81kg bronze medal a bout on Day 4 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Carioca Arena 2 on August 9, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Ryan Pierse/Getty

The UAE’s single medal so far in the 2016 Olympic Games was won by a Moldavian who was offered citizenship for the purpose of Olympic competition.

The number of foreigners on the UAE’s Olympic delegation has sparked a debate in the country. Other than Sergiu Toma (pictured), who won a bronze medal in judo, it includes the Ethiopian sprinter Betlhem Desalegn and Russian judokas Ivan Remarenco and Victor Scovtrov.

Among the team’s many critics was Dahi Halfan, the former Dubai police commissioner, who said that it undermined the country’s Arab and national character.

He also said that he was embarrassed to see the UAE flag carried by a man who lacks the slightest connection to the country and the Arabic language, and dismissed claims that such policies are customary in many countries.

“Those who support this policy should wait for Toma at the airport and lift him up on their shoulders,” he said.

Journalist and academic Abdel Khaleq Abdullah called on the government to debate the proportion of foreigners on its national team.

“The UAE had many achievements in sports made by the country’s natives, and there was no need for a medal to be won by someone who doesn’t have anything to do with the respectable record of our athletes,” he said. “The goal isn’t to clinch as many medals as possible, it’s to empower our children and motivate them to represent us in these competitions with their efforts and talents, and they’ve shown us more than once that they can do it.”

He also said that spending millions on foreigners instead of a long-term investment in physical education is deplorable.

Citing “small and poor” Jamaica as an example, he asked: “How come the UAE and the Gulf states are unable, despite their wealth, to qualify athletes and swimmers from among their own?”