If you’re stuck home in July with energetic kids whose friends have all gone to Sahel (North Coast) and they’re left whining about how bored they are, we have just the solution for you: Take them to the biggest sports event held in Egypt this year.
For the first time in Africa’s history, the FIBA (International Basketball Federation) Under-19 2017 Basketball World Cup will be held right here in Cairo, from July 1-9 at the Cairo International Stadium with 16 countries taking part.
But if seeing future NBA (National Basketball Association) players and their national team competing isn’t enough for your little athlete, the organizers are holding family days daily throughout the week of the competition, ranging from face-painting to mini basketball tournaments.
Competing against Latvia, Israel and Italy, Egypt in March landed the bid to host the cup this year. “This is the first time we ask to organize the Basketball World Cup, and it’s the first time in Africa and the Middle East,” says Mohamed Abdel Motaleb, Local Organizing Committee’s (LOC) director and vice president of the Egyptian Basketball Federation.
“The committee unanimously approved Egypt, with the exception of the United States who had reservations on the security situation.” When the bombings took place in April, FIBA send a security expert working with the German government to assess the security situation in Egypt. “The expert presented a very good report on the situation,” Abdel Motaleb adds.
The Cup is all the more exciting given our national U19 team is not only taking part in it, but also competing against a strong team this year and has an international coach behind them. With a few championships under his belt, Spanish head coach Juan Antonio Orenga is expected to take our team to the quarter-finals for the first time in Africa’s history.
Abdel Motaleb explains that the team has been preparing for this Cup since last year and is now in a preparation camp. “The national team is a strong one, we have been forming it for the past four years and six of our players are playing abroad, one in Spain and five in the U.S.,” he says, adding that all players playing abroad will join the national team by June.
“We also have very good players playing here. So with the Spanish head coach Juan Antonio Orenga, we have good chances of reaching the quarter-finals; a stage no other Arab team has reached.”
Shooting Guard Tarek Raafat, who has come from the U.S. where he’s currently playing to join the national team, is excited about Orenga. “The coach is really good and he understands new techniques of basketball,” he says.
Raafat explains that they train for around three hours in the morning and two hours at night. “We do gym in the weight room then have a team practice and play five-on-five and shooting and so on,” he tells us from his training camp in Alexandria. “The next day we do the same but do fitness, running for about 45 minutes.
We then shoot 200 to 300 shoots for five days straight then get a day off where we go to the spa to go to the sauna and Jacuzzi and take an ice bath.” Raafat adds that he believes the training facilities are similar, if not better, to those he gets at the schools’ facilities where he plays in the U.S.
From June 17 to 19 the team will head to Spain where they will play friendly games with France, Italy, Spain and Germany. They will then compete against Argentina and an Asian country. “That means they will play against five or six of the teams who will be taking part in the cup, which will give them great practice for the Cup,” Abdel Motaleb says.
The team has been together for a year and have kept communication, including with those playing abroad. “Our team chemistry is really good,” Raafat says. “We should be really good this year.”
Center Player Ahmed Abou El Ela, better known as Beebo, is also joining the team from Spain for the tournament and agrees with Raafat on the team spirit. “We have all played together on several tournaments, we keep in touch and we are all friends,” Beebo says.
Egypt, ranking number 16 on FIBA, is among group B, along with Germany, Puerto Rico and Lithuania.
There are a total of around 300 players, coaches, physicians and other members of the delegations expected to arrive starting June 27 from New Zealand, Korea, France, Germany, Puerto Rico, Lithuania, Canada, Japan, Spain, Mali, Iran, Angola, Italy and the U.S.
With 100 committee members and 230 volunteers working on the Cup, preparations are well on way to ensure as smooth a competition as possible and the best image for the country.
The team behind the Cup is composed of 15 committees, including marketing, transportation, accommodation, security, venues, ticketing and media. Volunteers Committee head Sherif Abou El Enein has a doctorate in sports marketing and has been working on sports competitions since 2006.
Abou El Enein interviewed 1,500 volunteers and chose 230 of them to join him in organizing the event. The volunteers were then divided into specialization according to skills and expertise, including accompanying teams and VIPs.
With some of the volunteers distributed across committees, the rest, known as organizers, are around 180 and they receive theoretical and practical training that lasts for up to two and a half months on the game rules, history and teams as well as how to behave, hypothetical situations and how to solve them, where to stand and how to guide people. “The organizers then have rehearsals and they are evaluated to make sure they fit all criteria,” Abou El Enein explains.
Because it is important for teams to have their escorts speak their language fluently, Abou El Enein is providing nine languages this championship. “The organizers accompanying the teams are the link and it’s important that the teams feel like they are part of the delegation,” Abou El Enein says.
“So I deal with them as members of the delegations who speak Arabic; this means that the organizers escorting the teams are always supporting their team, even if they’re playing against Egypt.” He adds that organizers working directly with the teams and the VIPs are important because they reflect the image of the championship and so need to have fluent languages, perfect attitudes and good information and background on the game.
One of the obstacles the LOC faced was a FIBA regulation that stipulates wooden floors in the court. “We don’t have that so we had to import it,” explains Abdel Motaleb. Heba El Hadidy, accommodation manager, explains that one, rather amusing, obstacle they face is that many players are well over two meters tall. “The beds are two meters in length at most, so we have to actually use bed extensions to accommodate taller players from the delegations.”
But the biggest obstacle has been promoting the event. Any non-football sport in Egypt is less than fortunate when it comes to game turnouts, but given that the Cup will be held right after Ramadan when people are normally on the beach somewhere, there is a double challenge to face.
“The competition is held right after Ramadan and we are worried it might affect the awareness around the World Cup,” explains Abdel Motaleb. Ahmed Bayoumi, head of the marketing committee, agrees and adds that it is also challenging to compete against the Ramadan advertising race and manage to get the message across the commercials clutter during the month. The best way to promote, Bayoumi feels, is through social media “because people are always on the phone in the morning during Ramadan and before iftar.”
While worldwide, football is the biggest sport in terms of fans, with around 2.15 billion fans, basketball comes in next, with around 1.4 billion fans. “In Egypt, however, handball comes in second after football and basketball comes third,” Bayoumi explains.
With the slogan “Discover the Stars of Tomorrow,” Bayoumi adds that because this competition is for U19, they are targeting youth and families who would view the under-19 players as their role models and where they want to be in the near future.
“We will target youth and families through activations in malls and sports clubs to raise awareness because this is where they would be in summer holidays with schools and universities off,” Bayoumi says. He adds that they would set up mini-basketball courts to host competitions with giveaways and prizes to raise awareness about the Cup.
To attract kids, Bayoumi explains that Hall 4 will be a “fan zone” with activities for kids including bands playing, face-painting and competitions. “Each day has eight games, you don’t just come watch a game and leave, you come and spend a day, attend games you like and spend time at the fan zone,” he says.
The tickets will be sold online, in youth centers and at the Cairo International Stadium.