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The Kingdom of Bahrain has officially joined the International Dragon Boat Federation (IDBF), enabling it to send its own National Dragon Boat Team to compete globally, to attract teams from abroad on the competitive circuit and bid for world championship events.
The island’s first National Dragon Boat squad, led by Captain Sara Shabib, and Head Coach and Vice Captain Jeanne Leonardo, will be competing in Abu Dhabi this Friday and in the People’s Republic of China in November.
The rowing regiment, also including Yusuf AlQallaf, Alfeo Salazar, Sahar Darwaa, Fatima Nadheer, Adel Abdul Jabbar, Ali Abulfateh, Jasssim Gillidary and Maria Carmella, has been farmed from amongst more than 200 players from seven local dragon boat teams.
Shabib said: “The thing that is so unique about Bahrain’s Dragon Boat team is the diversity. There are no age, gender or nationality barriers. We have rowers from 20 to 43 on the team, from every part of society. As long as people are able and willing to compete at that level, we are happy to have them.”
Dragon boating has a three-year young presence in Bahrain, even though it has a two millennia long history in Asia, tracing its roots to an ancient folk ritual of contending villagers. While competition has taken place annually for more than 20 centuries as part of religious ceremonies and folk customs, dragon boat racing has emerged in modern times as an international sport, beginning in Hong Kong in 1976.
Each standard dragon boat consists of 22 members: 20 paddlers in pairs facing the front, one caller at the front facing the paddlers ensuring optimal rowing synchronisation and one steerer at the rear, who controls the hull of the boat.
In Bahrain, the dragon boats are usually smaller, comprised of 12 members, with half the number of paddlers as the international teams. The sport has grown expeditiously in the kingdom with seven major events held in 2018 and nine scheduled for 2019, in addition to smaller academic events and workshops including a summer camp.
Shabib, who has been involved with dragon boating since its humble beginnings on the island, said: “In Bahrain, it’s a fun rivalry between the teams. We all know each other and just have fun. Anyone can learn the basics. The difficulty is in maintaining form and keeping in sync with your team.”
On Friday, the 10-person lineup will be rowing with 14 members of the Abu Dhabi Dragon Boat team, including three spares, as it works towards building up its own full national squad, under the patronage of the Bahrain Rowing & Canoe Centre.
Now that the kingdom is part of the IDBF it can also officially invite international teams and bid for global events, boosting tourism to the country. BRC’s strategy of introducing rowing, dragon boat racing and canoeing in the heart of Bahrain Bay to position Bahrain as the centre of maritime sports tourism in the region has been supported by the EDB as a long-term and unique tourism effort.
When asked which team they would like to invite, Shabib and Carmella answered in unison: “Definitely China, because they are the best and that’s where we’d like to be!”