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04/07/24 | 12:12 pm | Olympics-Paris 2024 Olympics

Cash, luxury cars and land grants, Paris Games a gold mine for Arab medallists

Tareg Hamedi went from being a hard-working student athlete to a national hero and millionaire after landing Saudi Arabia’s second ever Olympic silver medal in the karate competition in Tokyo three years ago.

Olympic medals remain a rarity for athletes from the Arab world but those who do manage to get onto the podium can expect lavish rewards, from luxury cars to land grants as well as a healthy boost to their bank balances.

Even as the sporting world debates the decision by World Athletics to award $50,000 to track and field gold medallists at the Paris Olympics, athletes from the region can be sure of much bigger paydays if they can snare a title in France.

In Tokyo, Hamedi missed out on claiming his country’s first gold medal in controversial circumstances when he knocked out his opponent with an illegal high kick in the final and was disqualified.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Hamedi he was a gold medallist in his country’s eyes and the fighter was rewarded with the full 5 million riyal ($1.33 million) prize promised to Olympic title winners.

Offering huge financial incentives to medal winners is not unknown elsewhere – Hong Kong fencer Cheung Ka Long banked HK$5 million ($640,311) for his Tokyo gold – but bestowing honours on champions has a long history in the Arab world.

Olympic medallists can expect streets, schools and bridges to be named after them and it is not just oil-rich Gulf nations that offer lavish gifts and monetary rewards.

In Algeria, it is customary for the country’s president to honour Olympic champions with gifts from ranging from luxury cars to apartments.

The winner of a gold medal in Morocco receives two million dirhams ($200,000) while Egypt’s National Olympic Committee, in agreement with sponsors, has raised the value of a gold medal to five million Egyptian pounds ($105,218) for Paris.

The entire Iraqi national football team that qualified for Paris Olympics recently received plots of land and financial bonuses from the prime minister.

Qatar has long used financial incentives to attract athletes from other countries to compete for the gas-rich state and the rewards for medal success are thought to be generous, even if they are not publicly disclosed.

Egypt-born weightlifter Fares Ibrahim Hassouna switched allegiance to win Qatar’s first Olympic gold medal in Tokyo in 2021 in a move that did not go down well with the Egyptian Weightlifting Federation.

“They splash money on him just as football clubs do on players,” federation chief Mahmoud Mahgoub said at the time.

(Reuters)

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