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2015 was a tough year, brighter days ahead

By Aline Bannayan - Jan 08,2016 - Last updated at Jan 08,2016

File photo of the national basketball team’s Sam Daghlas in action (Photo courtesy of

AMMAN — There is a lot in store for Jordan at upcoming sporting events, but officials might also ponder a look back at 2015 — where there is more of contemplation rather than celebration.

The Kingdom is lokking forward to the possibility that HRH Prince Ali may win the FIFA presidential election on February 26, especially if its is won on merit and hard work.

Another much-anticipated event of 2016 will be the hosting the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup in September — being awarded that honour was an achievement in itself.

The event will be the first of its kind for the Kingdom and the region, and is expected to boost the game locally as well as market Jordan as a destination for hosting major global competitions.

The highlight of 2015 was a Jordanian athlete qualifying to the Rio Games. Khitam Kamal already booked a slot to the Rio de Janeiro Paralympics in wheelchair table tennis — not on an invitation wildcard but through her third place finish at the zonal competition. Jordan has never been close to winning an Olympic medal, but paralympians have always come home with a handful.

Jordan’s football is in the midst of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup doubling as part of the qualification for 2019 Asian Cup. With qualifiers resuming in March, the team is facing an uphill challenge as they are without a head coach after Belgian Paul Put got mired in the midst of a match fixing court case in the Belgian League.

Earlier in 2015, Jordan’s line-up was led by Briton Ray Wilkins under whom the team failed to advance past the group stage of the 16th Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Asian Cup. Ahmad Abdul Qader took over in the transitional phase under whom the team played the first qualifier. Put took over in July. The team ended the year at 87th in the yearend FIFA world rankings.

Sports fans and observers alike note that even with more and more funds allocated to sports federations each year, there has been a steady regression in sports on the Asian and international levels over the last decade.

Last year, event after event, Jordanian football teams failed to win and qualify to their respective Asian football qualifiers. The U-23 football team was eliminated from the 1st West Asian Championship and is now readying for the 2nd Asian U-23 Championship serving as Asia’s qualifying tournament for the Olympic Games in Rio. Jordan beat South Korea to take bronze in the 1st edition.

The U-19 team, which reached the Asian Championship four times and previously reached the FIFA Youth World Cup in Canada in 2007, was also eliminated. In addition, the U-16 boys failed to advance to the 2016 AFC U-16 Asian Championship.

Earlier in the year, the women’s national team ended the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a winless record. Similarly, the U-16 girls team failed to qualify to the 2015 AFC U-16 Women’s Championship after qualifying in 2013.

Locally, two major events enthralled sports fans this fall. The Tennis Academy Amman hosted the Lexus Tennis Festival in September where, for the first time ever, ATP Tour professionals played in Jordan.

Finnish star Jarkko Nieminen and Tunisian Malek Jaziri joined the legendary French star and multiple Grand Slam champion Mary Pierce, for two days of great tennis and family fun.

For tennis players of all ages, seeing these players in Amman was remarkable. Pierce, a French champion, is a winner of four Grand Slam titles, including the 1995 singles Australian Open, the 2000 singles French Open, the 2000 doubles French Open, and the 2005 mixed doubles Wimbledon title. Former World No. 13 Nieminen had reached the quarter-finals in the 2005 US Open, the 2006 Wimbledon Championships and the 2008 Australian Open. He had beaten former World No. 1 tennis legend Andre Agassi and current World No. 1 Novak Djokovic. 

In December, Riyadi Aramex Club thrilled basketball enthusiasts with an action packed weekend with the internationally acclaimed Basketball Show of the Harlem Wizards in the capital. The world-class show, which includes veterans of the Globetrotters, was full of amazing hoop talent over two shows. The Wizards also had a three-day camp for players ages 6-13, visited the children’s ward at the King Hussein Cancer Centre in addition to youth community centres and schools.

In basketball Jordan took runner-up spot at the West Asian Basketball Association Championship. The Kingdom clinched one of three qualifying slots to the 28th Asian Basketball Championship in China where it finished at a disappointing ninth.

The basketball squad, which lost the 2006 Asian Games semifinal to China and possibly the country’s first Asian team medal ever, was knocked out in the preliminary round of the 2015 Asian Games. Although the men’s basketball team was the only Jordanian team to actually reach a world championship in a team sport in 2010 alongside the junior team in 1995 — official support for Jordan’s second most popular sport is seen as below par by most observers, leading to a decline in the game locally as well as the competitive advantage on the regional scene.

In basketball, the boys U-16 team was knocked out of the West Asian Basketball Championship. The women’s game was seen as making a slow comeback when Jordan hosted the 22nd FIBA Asia U-18 Championship for Women in 2014. Despite finishing 5th in Level 2, Jordan Basketball Federation officials viewed the event as a platform to advance the game on the local and regional levels, as it was only in 2013 and after nearly a 20 year break, that Jordan returned to Asian women’s basketball competitions. However, instead of making a leap forward, the league was down to two teams in 2015, and it was eventually cancelled.

Locally, the football and basketball leagues have seen inconsistent results. 

Reigning football champs Wihdat seem to be losing the reigns while Ahli who were relegated some years back are now third thanks to good leadership and disciplined work.

The basketball league no more has most veteran clubs playing. Apart from Orthodoxi and Riyadi, new clubs with no fan base have sprung up, making the notion of the second most popular sport a thing of the past.

With the 2016 Olympics too close, many ex-players and officials concur that they are lagging far behind on the Asian level — a benchmark of their competitive capacity. 

On the Asian front, the AFC Cup which was previously dominated by Jordan’s Faisali and Shabab Urdun, no longer has Jordanian teams in the lead. In 2015, Wihdat and Jazira were knocked out of the AFC Cup Round of 16. Wihdat also couldn’t make it past the preliminary round of the Asian Champions League.

The past year gives officials a lot to contemplate. There is obviously a lack of proper long-term planning and assessment. Revamping all regulations related to sports associations, especially by having ex-players and coaches leading the process, is viewed by many as a priority and a part of the solution. 


On all fronts, there remains much to be done.

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