With the Olympics coming to a close yesterday, Tunisia Live is checking in with you one last time about Tunisia’s performance in the Olympics.
In a bit of a surprise, the country’s star athletes fell short, allowing the spotlight to shift to three Bronze Medal winners. Here is our analysis of this year’s games.
Tunisia’s fencing team sparred well throughout the tournament, with Ines Boubakri capping off her team’s solid performance with a Bronze Medal. Boubakri’s victory allowed for a collective exhale, as it gave Tunisia its first medal of the games. She also made history, becoming both the first African and Arab woman to win a medal in fencing.
Marwa Amri won Bronze in the 58 kg wrestling event, also becoming the first African woman to do so. Amri, virtually unknown to Tunisians before her victory, gave Tunisia its second Bronze of the games.
Oussama Oueslati won his own Bronze in the 80 kg Taekwondo event, giving Tunisia a medal triumvirate and helping it match its medal total from London 2012.
National heroes Oussama Mellouli and Habiba Ghribi failed to win medals in their respective events. Ghribi’s performance was especially disappointing, as Tunisian media had widely considered her the favorite to win Gold in the 3000 m steeplechase race.
Oussama Mellouli’s mother marched at the front of Tunisia’s delegation during the Opening Ceremony, sparking widespread debate on Tunisian social media. Critics of the move said she has no place in the delegation, as she holds no official coaching title or ministerial position. Mellouli responded to these critics, saying he has done much for Tunisia and his mother’s presence helps him feel more comfortable.
Both Marwa Amri and Oussama Oueslati, in addition to steeplechase runner Amor Ben Yahia, noted the lack of support they received from both the Ministry of Sports and Tunisian media. All eyes and funds were focused on Ghribi and Mellouli, in addition to the country’s handball team, which underperformed itself to a 0-4-1 record.
Having followed the national team’s progress throughout the games, it is pretty clear Tunisia needs to reward its talented athletes without deifying them. Tunisian media and the Ministry of Sports turned Mellouli and Ghribi into gods, placing all of the attention on them, while not giving any to other athletes. The results of the Olympics show a different story, as the out-of-the-spotlight athletes won the medals. Additionally, Mellouli’s mother’s presence in the Opening Ceremony delegation, although well-intended, was clearly inappropriate and should not have been allowed. No athlete is above any other.
We also need to stop allocating the majority of funds to football and handball teams. Tunisia’s handball team crashed and burned at these Olympics games. The country’s football team has also underperformed for years, not matching the lofty expectations they set for themselves with a 2006 World Cup appearance. It is high time the country’s Ministry of Sports dedicated its budget to other sports, such as fencing and combat sports. Tunisia performed quite well in those areas, which seem like the country’s sporting future.
Lastly, the country really needs up take advantage of Olympic fever. Tunisia’s government should set up publicly-funded youth programs in fencing, wrestling, and taekwondo. Young Tunisians are excited about the success of athletes in these sports, so it makes perfect sense to capitalize on this positive momentum and begin to produce another wave of winning athletes.
Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a journalist focusing on Tunisia. He also works in the Tunisian education field, promoting cross-cultural understanding.