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Former Egyptian Fencer Still Connected to Olympics

Nine days of Olympic fencing competition concludes on Sunday at the Beijing Games. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer had a chance to talk with one of the fencing referees in Beijing, who is from Egypt, and how he ended up at the Olympic Games.

Tamer El Araby, 36, was on the Egyptian fencing team until 10 years ago and decided he still wanted to be connected to the sport.

"I was part of the Egyptian National Team since I was 12, that was on the under-17 team, and I finished in 1998," he said. "I participated in many World Championships, African Championships, international championships, and after that I took up refereeing and I'm still refereeing until now."

Refereeing is not a full time job. El Araby works in marketing in Egypt for Vodaphone, a multi-national mobile phone operator. He said with his career, being a fencing coach was not really an option and that's why he became a referee. He is single so he has had the freedom to travel the world when asked to referee fencing competitions.

"I've been almost everywhere. China now, all the way down to Cuba, on the other side of the U.S., and as well, all over Europe; basically a lot of experiences, meeting different people, cultures and so on. For me it was very much an enhancing experience. It's helped me through my life and it's still helping me to the moment, so I'm enjoying it," he added.

Tamer El Araby says that while fencing is not widely popular in Egypt, his country is the best in the region.

"It's a small sport. Still, it has a lot of good results historically and Egyptians are number-one on the Arab level, in the African level," said Tamer El Araby. "Maybe recently only Tunisia started to become a strong competitor. And on the international level as well we've had some good results. Recently this year on the junior level we won a bronze medal in men's foil and a gold medal in men's epee for the cadet under [age] 17. So it's picking up. It's still a small sport. It needs a lot of support, but we're developing slowly."

Egypt qualified fencers in nearly all of the events in Beijing. Their best finish in the individual events was a 24th by Mostafa Nagaty in the men's foil.

Egypt is one of the eight teams that qualified for the men's team saber final on Sunday.

El Araby says even if the Egyptian fencers are not finishing high in the standings, being in Beijing is an invaluable experience.

"I think it's a very good step for them to start developing, understanding Olympic philosophy, Olympic culture, how maybe later on they can pass on this experience to others who can actually come along and make good results," he said.

Tamer El Araby says while he, of course, is not allowed to referee fencing matches by his countrymen, he will always cheer them on.