A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America

Esporte Clube Sirio is a leading sports and social club in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial hub. (Supplied)
Short Url
Updated 25 November 2022

A tale of Arab immigrant contribution to sports in Latin America

  • A generation of immigrants greatly helped to popularize basketball and football across the continent
  • Documentary “4 Colores” shows how football promoted connection between Chileans and Palestine cause

SAO PAULO, BRAZIL: The 15th-best tennis player in the world, Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia, left the US Open on Sept. 4 after she and her Kazakh partner Anna Danilina were defeated by the duo Nicole Melichar-Martinez and Ellen Perez.

Nevertheless, Brazilians have developed a growing devotion to Maia, and many hope she can become the best tennis player in the country’s history.

Part of her success comes from her formative years at Esporte Clube Sirio, a leading sports and social club in Sao Paulo, Brazil’s major financial hub.

Founded in 1917, the club is one of the great examples of the Arab community’s contribution to sports in Latin America.

Esporte Clube Sirio, a sports club with strong connections to the Arab community in Sao Paulo, helped develop the skills of tennis star Beatriz Haddad Maia. (AFP)

Its first complex included four tennis courts, a basketball court, a football pitch and a lake.

The number of members grew very rapidly over the years among Syrian and Lebanese immigrants — such as the Haddad family — who formed a large community in Sao Paulo, and the club became wealthy. Non-Arab Brazilians soon began to join too.

By 1949, Sirio had gained a reputation as one of the top sports clubs in Sao Paulo, and moved to its current location, in the southern zone of the city, building a modern complex from scratch.

“I joined Sirio as a child in 1955. I saw most of it being built,” Washington Joseph, 72, known by the nickname Dodi, told Arab News. “My brother and I began practicing football, then gymnastics and judo. At 11, I began playing basketball.”

Between 1967 and 1982, Dodi, the grandson of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants, was one of the greatest basketball players in Brazil, and was part of the mythical squad that conquered the world championship in 1979.

Between the 1950s and 1980s, Sirio was one of Brazil’s major basketball teams. Many of its players were regularly called to play in the national team, which was one of the world’s best at the time.

In 2014, Palestino decided to include on its jersey the full map of Palestine (before the partition), replacing the number one. (Supplied)

“We had a hegemony of about 30 years. We won several national tournaments, and also the South American championship six times,” Dodi said.

Another Arab club, Sao Paulo’s Monte Libano, also had a very competitive basketball team.

Sirio took part in the Intercontinental Cup six times, and Dodi was part of the team in all of them except for the 1984 edition. “We ended up in third place twice, second place twice and won it once, in 1979,” he said.

That year, the cup was hosted by Brazil. The matches drew thousands of basketball fans to the stadium and were televised nationwide.

Sirio made it to the final against the Yugoslav club Bosna. The Brazilians’ spectacular 100-98 victory has never been forgotten.

“Our generation greatly helped to popularize basketball in Brazil,” Dodi said. Sirio continued to be a leading basketball club until 1995, when the sport became largely professional in Brazil and its directors concluded that it would no longer be possible to keep the necessary level of investment necessary to maintain it at the top.

A closeup of jersey featuring a map of palestine. (Supplied) 

But Sirio never ceased to be a school for new athletes. It had great champions such as the weightlifter Tamer Chaim — who competed at the summer Olympics in Munich — and tennis player William Kyriakos.

“We also had great judo fighters and top handball and volleyball teams. We continue to be an authority in sports,” Dodi said, adding that a frequent rival of Sirio was Club Deportivo Palestino of Santiago, Chile.

Carlos Medina Lahsen, a Chilean of Palestinian descent and an expert in Palestino’s history, told Arab News: “Especially in the 1950s, matches between the two clubs were greatly anticipated.”

Palestino was founded in 1920 as a football club. Due to British influence, Palestinians already played football in the Middle East before migrating to Latin America, Medina Lahsen said.

“Communities of foreigners began to practice sports looking for integration into Chilean society, but discrimination was very intense at that time,” he added.

The club gave up on football in 1923 and prioritized tennis. But Palestino and another Arab club joined forces in the 1940s, and resumed football at the time of the 1947 partition of Palestine.

Sirio’s 1979 Intercontinental Cup-winning Basketball team. (Supplied)

During the 1950s, the team received much investment from Palestinian businessmen and became known as “the millionaires.” In 1955, it conquered the national football championship.

With the second uprising against Israeli occupation (2000-2005), the interest of many Palestinian Chileans in Palestino grew, and the club saw a surge in new fans.

In 2008, Palestino made it to the final of the national championship against Colo Colo. Although Palestino was defeated, it garnered widespread attention from Palestinians.

In the internet era, news of a football club named after their country amazed them. “We heard that people rented cinema theaters and streamed the match in the Gaza Strip,” said Medina Lahsen.

From then on, the connection between the club and Palestine greatly increased. Chilean players visited Palestine on many occasions, and even the main team took part in matches there. The Bank of Palestine became a frequent sponsor.

In 2014, Palestino decided to include on its jersey the full map of Palestine (before the partition), replacing the number one.

This spurred controversy in Chile, with members of the Jewish community accusing the club of erasing Israel from the map, and many pressuring the national football federation to intervene.

The sports authorities did not consider the symbol to be political in nature, and only fined Palestino because the map exceeded the maximum area of the jersey that could show printed content.

“The club used that jersey all through the season. Until now, it’s the most popular jersey in Palestino’s history,” said Medina Lahsen.

The documentary film “4 Colores,” which narrates the club’s history, demonstrates how football promoted a connection between Chileans and the Palestine cause.

“Many of Palestino’s fans aren’t directly part of the Arab community in Chile, but nevertheless they’ve been touched by the plight of Palestinians worldwide,” said Medina Lahsen, who was in charge of research for the film.

He discovered that across Latin America there have been sports clubs with Palestino or Arabe in their name, such as Central Palestino in Uruguay and Palestino Futbol Club in Honduras. In Argentina and Chile, there are dozens of clubs named Sirio or Sirio Libanes.

In Panama, one of the top football clubs is Deportivo Arabe Unido, from the city of Colon.

Sirio’s unforgettable and decisive game against Bosna that clinched the championship. (Supplied)

Although the Arab community in Colon is not very large — it has an estimated 120 families — it has played a central role in local sports.

DAU “was founded by Arab Panamanians in the 1990s, when the country didn’t have a professional football league. We never thought it would grow so much,” the club’s President Mohamed Hachem told Arab News.

Since its creation, the club has been one of the most successful in Panama’s premier league, with several national championships. Most of its fans are not members of the Arab community now.

“We’ve had a few players of Arab origin, and the Arab community is very supportive of us,” Hachem said.

The club is working to build its new headquarters and sports center, including a social area.

One of Hachem’s plans for the future is to promote a championship among Arab football clubs in Latin America. “It would be a beautiful thing to gather all of them,” he said.

World’s top cyclists begin long-awaited Saudi Tour 2023

Updated 31 January 2023

World’s top cyclists begin long-awaited Saudi Tour 2023

  • Saudi Tour, featuring 112 Saudi and international cyclists, is scheduled to end on February 3
  • Riyadh hosting such events increases culture of sports in Kingdom, says Saudi cycling federation

RIYADH: A total of 112 leading local and top international cyclists representing 16 teams are participating in the long-awaited Saudi Tour that started today and ends on Feb. 3.

The announcement of the field was made at a press conference on Sunday in AlUla, in the presence of several of the riders and officials from the Ministry of Sports and the Saudi Arabia Cycling Federation.

Present at the event was the SACF’s spokesperson Abdulaziz Al-Shahrani, spokesperson for the Royal Commission for AlUla Philip Jones, spokesperson for the Amaury Sports Organization Gion Marino, Saudi national team cyclist Hassan Al-Jumaa, Dutch cyclist Dylan Groenewegen and German cyclist John Degenkolb.

“Saudi Arabia’s hosting of such sporting events increases the culture of practicing sports, especially since the mass base for cycling is large and growing,” said Al-Shahrani. He said this would serve as a massive boost for the sport domestically.

Jones said he was pleased to host the Saudi Tour for the second time in AlUla, which would consolidate the region’s spectacular growth of the past few years. He commended the partnership between AlUla Governorate, the Ministry of Sports, and the SACF.

“If you haven’t been to AlUla in the past year, you really haven’t been (anywhere),” Jones told Arab News. “This destination has undergone significant change, and if you look around, you will find new hotels, restaurants, several new visitor assets, and we are adding a new district called Al-Jadida. Hosting an event like the Saudi Tour allows us to invite international media so they can witness the changes for themselves.”

Commenting on the Australian Jayco AlUla team, sponsored by the RCU, Jones said: “They have great chances in the race, and I am a fan of it, especially since we sponsor this team, and it bears the name of the city that we aspire to be the most civilized city in the world.”

Amaury’s Marinon said the five new routes of the race, over a total distance of 830 kilometers, with new areas and locations, would provide an ideal platform for the contestants to perform.

“The countries of the world are following with enthusiasm the course of the race this year,” said Marinon. “There are many different programs allocated in different countries to cover the event.”

Dutch cyclist Groenewegen said: “I am excited about this race, and I came to AlUla to win. And I also feel very proud to be in the 2023 Saudi Tour.”

During the inauguration ceremony of the Saudi Tour, Deputy Minister of Sports Badr Al-Qadi spoke to Arab News about the importance of the race, which he said was demonstrating the “leadership” of the nation’s sports sector.

“His Highness Minister of Sports Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al-Faisal leads the sector and has an integrated strategy (developed). This strategy aims to increase the percentage of sports practice, improve the performance of elite athletes, and discover talent. This event aims to discover talent and diversify sports, including cycling.”

Many eyes will be on the Kingdom’s national team, and the athletes have been encouraged to embrace the experience.

Haider Al-Essa, head of the SACF delegation, said: “We assembled the Saudi squad and advised them to enjoy themselves, let go of any tension, and join the tournament in good spirits. We noted that simply competing against top-tier international cyclists was an enormous accomplishment.”

McIlroy comes out on top of bitter rival Reed in Dubai

Updated 30 January 2023

McIlroy comes out on top of bitter rival Reed in Dubai

  • McIlroy had fallen behind arch-rival Reed after a bogey on the 15th hole
  • The Northern Irishman bounced back with birdies on the 17th and 18th to prevail over Reed by a single shot

DUBAI: Rory McIlroy prevailed in a nail-biting finish over Patrick Reed, the man he “prefers not to acknowledge” after a spat between the two, in the rain-delayed $9 million Dubai Desert Classic on Monday.
It was the first time McIlroy has won the first start of his new season and is his 15th DP World Tour victory in 231 starts.
It was also his third Dubai Desert Classic victory in 13 appearances.
He will remain world number one, after Spaniard Jon Rahm failed to win the Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour on Saturday.
McIlroy and Reed went into the tournament after a row when Reed reportedly threw a tee toward McIlroy on the practice range in Dubai.
The two have been at odds since McIlroy criticized players, including Reed, who joined the rival Saudi-backed LIV Golf circuit.
McIlroy, who lost this tournament last year on the final hole when his second shot found the water and he ended up making a bogey, had fallen behind Reed after a bogey on the 15th hole.
However, the Northern Irishman made amends with birdies on the 17th and 18th in a round of four-under par 68.
McIlroy finished on 19-under par, while Reed, starting the day four shots behind the Northern Irishman, made a crucial bogey on the 16th and a par on the drivable par-4 17th hole in his round of 65.
Australian Lucas Herbert, champion in 2019, closed with a six-under par 66 to take solo third place at 16-under par 272.
England’s Callum Shinkwin, who started with three bogies in his first six holes playing in the lead group with McIlroy, made six birdies after that to shoot a 69 and take solo fourth place at 273.
The DP World Tour stays in the UAE for a fourth consecutive week and will head to the northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah this week for the $2 million RAK Championship.


Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

Updated 30 January 2023

Al-Ittihad beat Al-Feiha 2-0 in Saudi Super Cup Final

  • Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad

Two goals from Abderrazak Hamdallah gave Al-Ittihad a 2-0 win over Al-Feiha on Sunday in the Saudi Super Cup Final in Riyadh to hand the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years.

The victory also gave former Tottenham Hotspur and FC Porto boss Nuno Santo his first trophy in Saudi Arabia.

Although Al-Feiha had defeated defending league champions Al-Hilal 1-0 on Thursday, they were the underdogs against Al-Ittihad.

The victory handed the Jeddah giants their first major piece of silverware in five years. (SPA)

And Hamdallah, who featured for Morocco in the World Cup, struck early in each half to give the Tigers a big win against their 10-man opponents.

The first goal came in the third minute. Al-Ittihad’s Romarinho picked up the ball just outside the Al-Feiha half and the Brazilian’s pass fed Hamdallah who took one touch on the edge of the area and then coolly lifted the ball over Vladimir Stojkovic.

It was a great start for the Jeddah giants and it got better for them midway through the first half as Al-Feiha were reduced to 10 men. Abdulrahman Al-Safari went in high with his studs on Egyptian midfielder Tarek Hamed and was shown a straight red card from the referee.

Five minutes before the break it looked as if the in-form Romarinho had extended his side’s lead but the Brazilian, who finished smartly from close range, was adjudged by the referee’s assistant — and also VAR — to have been offside.

Al-Ittihad had a chance to tighten their grip on the trophy just before the break as Stojkovic was penalized for bringing down Hamdallah inside the penalty area and the referee pointed to the spot. However, Abdulrahman Al-Oboud dragged his shot wide.

An Al-Feiha player comforts a forlorn colleague after the Al Majma'ah-based club's loss to Al-Ittihad. (SPA)

The frustration for watching fans in Jeddah did not last long as Hamdallah doubled Al-Ittihad’s lead three minutes after the restart, much to the dismay of Stojkovic. The Serbian goalkeeper came a long way off his line in an attempt to punch away a free-kick from deep, and Hamdallah’s head got there first to send the ball looping into the net.

Al-ittihad were on top for much of the second half and worked hard to ensure that they stayed in front.

Boss Santo said: “It was a good performance from us and we worked hard. It was a tough game and we are delighted that we ended up winning.”

Santo, who arrived last summer after spells with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Spurs, looked delighted as his players collected the trophy.

There is still the challenge of becoming champions of Saudi Arabia for the first time since 2009, but Santos is pleased with the progress his side have made so far.

He said: “We know that there is still a long way to go this season.

“The most important thing is that we stay together and work hard. If we can do that then who knows what can happen?

“It is great to lift this trophy but we hope that this is just the beginning.”

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

Updated 30 January 2023

Madrid frustrated by Sociedad, loses ground to Barcelona

  • Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro

MADRID: Vinícius Júnior had his share of chances to break the deadlock. More than once, the Brazil forward was in front of the opposition goal with only the ‘keeper to beat.
But Vinicius and his teammates couldn’t get the job done on Sunday as Real Madrid was held to a 0-0 draw at home by third-place Real Sociedad to lose ground to Barcelona at the top of the Spanish league.
The result left defending champion Madrid five points behind the Catalan rival, which won 1-0 at Girona on Saturday. Sociedad stayed three points behind Madrid, and eight behind Barcelona. Both Madrid and Barcelona have a game in hand.
Vinícius played well overall and created some good opportunities for himself, but in the end was thwarted by a great performance from Sociedad goalkeeper Álex Remiro. He made three key saves against close-range attempts by Vinícius, and also saw the Brazilian send the ball wide in a one-on-one situation.
“Vinícius played a good match, if he had scored it would have been a spectacular one,” Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said. “He has been playing well. Sometimes he will miss, but he is always trying.”
Karim Benzema and Rodrygo also couldn’t break through the Sociedad defense as Madrid was held scoreless for the first time this season despite more than 20 attempts against Sociedad, which also had its opportunities in an intense match at the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium.
“We played a very complete game but couldn’t score,” Ancelotti said. “We were close. I’m satisfied with the draw because we played well.”
Madrid, coming off a home win in the derby against Atletico Madrid in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey, remains unbeaten against Sociedad since a 4-3 home loss in the quarterfinals of the Copa in 2020, a competition the Basque Country side won.
Sociedad was coming off a 1-0 loss at Barcelona in the Copa quarterfinals, a result that ended its nine-game winning streak in all competitions. It had been one of the hottest teams in Spain until the consecutive setbacks against the powerhouses.
Atletico Madrid bounced back from its Copa elimination against Madrid with a 1-0 win at seventh-place Osasuna.
Substitute Saúl Ñíguez scored the winner less than 10 minutes after he had entered the match in the 65th.
Atletico relinquished a late 1-0 lead against Madrid to lose 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the Copa del Rey on Thursday. The cup was the only competition Atletico realistically had a chance to win as it had already been eliminated from the Champions League and the Europa League, and it currently trails league leader Barcelona by 13 points.
“We are out of the Champions (League) and the Copa, but the motivation to play for Atletico remains,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said. “I’ll always demand that from my players.”
It was the third win in four games in all competitions for Simeone’s team, while struggling Osasuna remained winless in four straight.
Osasuna has only one victory in eight matches overall, though it hadn’t lost since last year.
Atletico hadn’t won an away match in the league since October at Real Betis.
Iñaki Williams’ absence in Athletic Bilbao’s 1-0 loss at Celta Vigo ended his record of 251 consecutive league appearances. He did not play in Vigo because of injury.
Williams had played in every league match for Bilbao since April 2016.
Veteran striker Iago Aspas scored Celta’s winner in the 71st. The result moved Celta to 16th place, while Bilbao remained eighth.
Bilbao is winless in five league games, since a 3-0 home victory against Valladolid before the World Cup.
Valencia’s struggles continued with a 1-0 loss at Valladolid, adding pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Valencia has only one win in its last 10 league games, against Real Betis before the World Cup. It dropped to 14th place and one point above the relegation zone.
Canadian forward Cyle Larin scored a 90th-minute winner for 17th-place Valladolid, which ended its five-game losing streak across all competitions.

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

Updated 29 January 2023

Mitoma magic inflicts more Brighton misery on Liverpool

  • Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma

BRIGHTON: Liverpool’s disastrous season suffered another blow on Sunday as the holders were dumped out the FA Cup by a 2-1 defeat at Brighton.

Kaoru Mitoma’s brilliant control and finish in stoppage time earned the Seagulls a place in the fifth round.

Liverpool had led at the Amex through Harvey Elliott, but have now won just once in their last six games.

Lewis Dunk leveled before the break for Brighton and they were well worthy of the victory given to them by a moment of magic from Mitoma.

The Japanese winger cushioned Pervis Estupinan’s cross into his path, flicked the ball over Joe Gomez and fired high past Alisson Becker in the 92nd minute.

Liverpool are languishing in ninth in the Premier League, 21 points behind pacesetters Arsenal.

Their FA Cup exit leaves the Champions League as their only remaining shot at a trophy this season.

Last season, Jurgen Klopp’s men were on the brink of a historic quadruple, which included their first FA Cup triumph in 16 years.

But Klopp is still searching for answers to halt their decline after a second defeat on the south coast in 15 days.

The German described Brighton’s 3-0 win when the sides last met as the worst performance of his managerial career.

Liverpool did at least put up a fight this time and will rue two big early chances missed by Mohamed Salah.

The Egyptian did at least have a hand in Liverpool’s goal as he released Elliott, whose strike had too much power for Steele to keep out.

Brighton hit back within nine minutes when Tariq Lamptey’s powerful shot was deflected past the helpless Alisson by Dunk.

The hosts were without Moises Caicedo after the Ecuadorian took to social media on Friday to try and force through a move to Arsenal.

Brighton have already lost Leandro Trossard, who scored a hat trick against Liverpool earlier in the season, to the Gunners this month.

But those absences did not show as Liverpool were left riding their luck for most of the second period.

Ibrahima Konate and Fabinho were extremely fortunate to escape red cards for challenges on Alexis Mac Allister and Evan Ferguson.

Alisson threw himself in front of Solly March to make a brilliant save from Mitoma’s inventive cross and Konate did likewise to block from Ferguson.

But Brighton’s pressure finally got its reward when Mitoma struck his fourth goal in six games.