Spotlight on Syria
In a country devastated by war, the Syrian Arab Cycling Federation is attempting to renew the population’s interest in one of life’s simple pleasures: the bike.
Cycling for All is now a main priority of the Syrian Arab Cycling Federation which has established a Cycling for All committee to organise events, encourage all citizens to cycle and thus improve the population’s health. In many ways, it’s a return to basics for a country whose Golan international road races for men and women used to feature on the UCI International Calendar and whose national riders enjoyed success in Arab and Asian competitions.
The Federation President Mohamad Khuder explains: “The situation in our country and the suffering of our people led to a lack of structure and necessary equipment for the Syrian team to continue. In addition, there was a general decline in physical activity amongst Syrians coupled with an increase in traffic and air pollution.”
He said that despite the conflict, the Federation had continued to organise national championships and local festivals with the aim of spreading the culture of cycling.
In May 2014, around 500 men and women took part in a bike ride in Damascus under the name of “Syria is Still Alive.”
The following year, another initiative “Yalla Let’s Bike” attracted around 1000 participants in the Syrian capital. Journalist Yazen Kalash said the ride was “a clear message to the world that Syria will survive despite the barbaric aggression of gangs, murder and destruction.”
Mohamad Khuder adds that both the “Syria is Still Alive” ride and the “Yalla Let’s Bike”, aimed to encourage Syrian people to ride bikes rather than use their vehicles, to combat the problems of air pollution and cope with rising energy prices.
On the back of the success of these two events, the Syrian Arab Cycling Federation created a Cycling for All Committee last year to increase community participation across all categories and ages.
Their message is that a better quality of life will lead to the population having more fun and enjoyment. The Federation President believes that participating in a cycling event can help rebuild social cohesion.
The Cycling for All committee aims to hold several cycling events throughout 2017, in cooperation with political and public organisations. The aim is to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling, and to increase the number of people riding bikes, including children and women.
Cycling festival in schools
“A bike, clean environment and good health,” was the motto of Syria’s first cycling festival organised recently for school children in cities across the country, in Lattakia, Tartus, Hama, Damascus and its surroundings, and Al Sweda’a. In total 1145 children aged 8-12 took part in the races which were around 2km long. Some 3000 spectators, including proud family members, lined the routes.
Mr Khuder said his Federation was able to organise these races thanks to the collaboration with the Ministry of Education and a large number of volunteers, sponsors and partners, including a popular children’s magazine Osama. Mr Khuder commented:
“The event was a hope to all families and children after seven years of troubles in Syria.”
The participants talked to local media about their delight and pride at being able to race:
Huda AlDara: “My family was preventing me from riding but I convinced them that biking is a nice sport and that my friend rides. Then my family bought me a bike and now they are happy to be with me in this race.”
Rita Barakat: “This race was beautiful and I am so glad to ride in the street without any cars. It is the first time I ride without fear of cars.”
Abdul Alrahman: “I was so happy to participate in this race and I prepared for it from the time the school informed us about it.”
The Syrian Arab Cycling Federation aims to work with the UCI to continue along the path of Cycling for All.
“Our vision is to register a Cycling for All event on the UCI calendar in the near future,” concludes Mohamad Khuder.