This year’s Tokyo Olympics was by nature political, despite the games being said not to be so. The stories of Palestinian athletes who competed at Tokyo are perhaps the best examples of how simply being present in sport can signify so much.
Dania Nour, a Palestinian Olympic swimmer who competed in the Tokyo games is one of the most compelling cases demonstrating that some people cannot escape politics, purely by virtue of where they are from. Dania, however, embraces her situation and uses it to inspire others towards not only sport, but national pride.
“Holding the Palestine flag during the opening ceremony was such a great feeling that I will never forget. It gave me the determination to continue my journey towards achieving my goal despite all the difficulties,” Dania tells me when I ask her how it felt to represent Palestine at the Olympics.
At only 17 years of age and born in Bethlehem, Dania trains in the occupied West Bank with her coaches Mohammad Halman and Mousa Nawawreh. She is forced to train in a 25 metre pool and doesn’t have access to a traditional 50 metre Olympic sized pool. “We don’t have 50m swimming pools to practice in and we don’t have expert coaches or swimming starting blocks. It was my first time training in a 50m pool in preparation for the Games.”
But swimming in a smaller pool is only an option for part of the year in occupied Palestine, as she explains, training gets a lot tougher.
Every winter the 25m pool closes, so I usually have a hard time finding a pool and doing my training at all. I have to go either to Ramallah, which takes me three hours with the traffic, or cross the military checkpoints early in the morning to go to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is closer to me but we, as Palestinian, have difficulties getting permission to pass checkpoints and also in traveling outside Palestine.
The global pandemic further hindered her training and, as a result, her abilities. “During corona time I had to stop swimming for more than a year and went backwards in my numbers. Thank God we managed to arrange for a month of training in Berlin before the Olympics.”Some of the issues facing athletes in Palestine are the “lack of facilities, capabilities, pools, trained coaches,” in addition to, “not being able to travel freely inside and outside the country making it more difficult for any Palestinian to continue in their careers as athletes,” she explains.
“A Palestinian swimmer needs much more. I always see the things that I need to prepare when I travel outside my country for competitions and I feel down, because I know how much effort I put into swimming but I don’t know if I’ll even be able to continue.”
“I know it won’t be easy for me as a Palestinian girl to fulfil such a dream, but I decided never to give up, you always have to think positive, work hard and never let your passion die.”
“It is very important to show Palestinian culture on a global stage and this was my goal this time while going to the Olympics. I knew I was not ready to win and I knew I didn’t have enough training yet, but the best part was holding the flag up high and being part of this big event as a Palestinian young girl.”
In spite of the challenges, Dania knows her presence at the games is something for her to be proud of. “Going to the Olympics has been such a big part of my life. I really want to thank everyone who supported me from my family, friends and everyone else on social media… My journey was a success because of their support and I am proud to be an inspiration to many youngsters in my country.”
Dania may not have won gold, but she defeated the limitation of a military occupation to get to Tokyo, held her flag up high and let her determination shine. There are no medals for people who overcome those hurdles.