Competitiveness is in the air among dragon boat teams in Egypt. At the most recent dragon boat festival in Cairo in October, participating
teams showcased their impressive talents on the Nile – and displayed some tough team spirit.
Interest in the sport has been escalating since the Dragon Boat Academy first established roots in Cairo at the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly.
Six teams joined the October competition, representing diverse communities throughout Cairo. The teams included the Nile Dragons, team Gouda, the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly, the Confucius Institute of Cairo University, the Chinese Cultural Center’s team of the Chinese embassy, African Hope Learning Centre and the Canadian International School. Participants have been practicing for months now in preparation for the festival’s competition – and their practice certainly made an impact as attendees were left impressed with the speed and strength of each of the teams.
Ultimately, it was the Nile Dragons who took the overall first prize, coming out on top in the Egyptian mixed race. Their women’s team also wowed judges, earning first place in the women’s competition. It was the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly’s team that outshone all teams in the men’s race, and, finally, the Chinese Cultural Center that won in the international category.
As is tradition at most dragon boat festivals, an eye-dotting ceremony celebrated the long Chinese legacy of dragon boating that has now reached the shores of the Nile in Egypt. Charge d'Affairs of the Chinese Embassy, Liu Yongfenghad, the honor of performing the ceremony at this past festival, breathing life into the boats – and simultaneously prompting more motivation and passion in the festival’s competitors.
In addition to advancing a new sport here in Egypt, the Dragon Boat Academy has sparked unique Cairo connections, bringing to light the Chinese community in the city as well as creating another outlet for Cairenes interested in Chinese culture and language. Cairo University students who are learning Chinese through the Confucius Institute at Cairo University volunteered their time to help organize and guide teams throughout the festival day, making use of their English, Arabic and Chinese skills.
Team members decompressed and rebooted their strength for the second half of the day with a midday lunch break featuring Chinese fried rice, keeping to the cultural celebration surrounding the festival.
The races were incredibly close, nearly ending in ties each time, pointing to the immense strength and bottomless fervor evident in each of the athletes. The teams have developed a true passion for the sport, seeing it as a great physical challenge and mental exercise in team building and intense dedication. At the final awards ceremony, teams showcased their team spirit, cheering each other on as each individual team member stepped up to receive his or her medal.
Plans are already in the works for a 2018 festival in February to coincide with Chinese New Year. This festival will be even larger, with plans to host around 12 teams and include participants from overseas.
The Dragon Boat Academy is encouraging teams to sign up for the festival now, with the incentive of a package that will allow members to make use of the space and resources at the Royal Club Mohamed-Aly to practice before the competition. This next competition will be limited to those teams that have developed a certain amount of experience and practice in the hopes of hosting a fair and exciting competition.
Though competitiveness is rising, Dragon Boating still remains a friendly sport that can benefit all members of the Cairo public. The competition stimulated community spirit among team members, allowing individuals from different groups and institutions across Cairo to gather in one place in celebration of a long-standing Chinese tradition and exhilarating sport.
By Ioanna Moriatis,
Writer at the American University in Cairo and editor for the Maadi Messenger
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