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"Elite sport" popularizes and takes root in Africa
21:46, August 04, 2008

Rowing, a traditionally popular sport in Western countries and a favorite pastime for the elite, has taken root in the vast continent of Africa and is becoming increasingly popular in the remote and underdeveloped world.

Rowing was first used as a means of transport in the ancient cultures of Egypt, Greece and Rome. It as a sport probably began in England in the 17th and early 18th centuries. By the 19th century, it grew popular in Europe and had been exported to America. Early races were usually contested by professionals, and heavy betting on races was common. Now it flourishes in many African countries.

"We have 25 countries on the continent which have rowing activities and it is becoming more and more popular," Khaled Zein Eldin, president of African Rowing Federation and African Representative of International Rowing Federation (FISA), told Xinhua in an exclusive interview in Shunyi Olympic Canoeing/Kayaking Park on Monday.

"When I was elected president of the African federation, there were only four African countries practising rowing. Now there are 25. So you can see the progress," the president said.

He said that in Egypt, for example, there is a very old rowing federation.

"Egypt had a federation in rowing in 1907 and it became an FISA member in 1925. Now we have a very good water course in Alexander city in northern Egypt. Tunisia and Algeria also have, " the Egyptian president said with much pride.

Egyptian team leader Omar Deraz said that rowing is so popular in Egypt that there are altogether 30 rowing clubs and more than 1,000 rowers across the country.

"We have make strenuous efforts to boost rowing. We give everything to rowers. The national federation provides boats, oars to players, and we also conduct workshops for both coaches and players," he said.

On the measures aimed to boost rowing, he said that the national federation in Egypt provides good bonuses for winners in big competitions.

When it came to rowing traditions in Africa, Deraz said: "Zimbabwe has the oldest tradition of rowing in Africa and now Tunisia and Algeria are the best two countries in rowing after Egypt. Egypt won six gold medals, two silver ones and one bronze out of the nine races in the last Arab Championship held in the city of Alexander in Egypt."

Arab championships are held every two years and there are nine such regattas so far. African Championships, first held in Cairo in 1993 with the participation of three countries, have now attracted rowers from over 10 countries.

In South Africa, rowing is part of school activities. The South African school rowing championships have attracted the attention of a large audience.

The South African Rowing Federation has set up a High Performance Rowing Academy in hopes of establishing a breeding ground for future Olympic gold medalists. The academy currently houses eleven athletes and provides them with access to world class training facilities such as coaching, meals, health care and high school. Now, South Africa has three boat-manufacturing factories.

Their efforts have paid off.

African rowers appeared in many international regattas and won medals. This time, there are rowers from Zimbabwe, South Africa, Egypt, Cameroon and Kenya for Beijing Olympics.

Khaled Zein Eldin is very optimistic about the prospect of rowing in Africa. "I am sure there will be more Afrian rowers to go for London Olympics in four years," he said with confidence and determination.

Source: Xinhua

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