Birth of Triathlon in Tunisia
Last weekend Tunisia successfully hosted the 2008 ATU Triathlon African Championships in Yasmine Hammamet, the first ITU-sanctioned event to ever be held in Tunisia. The race was the crowning achievement for the Tunisian Triathlon Federation, which joined the ITU family just last year. The architect of the federation is Abdelbacet Abdouli, commonly known as Bacet, who was inspired after leafing through his companys magazine.
The idea came to me when I was reading the BG newsletter regarding the contract between ITU and BG Group to sponsor triathlon, said Abdouli, the Lead Maintenance Engineer with BG Group in Tunisia, ITUs global partner. I love sport and as BG staff, I wanted to take advantage of this and develop triathlon in Tunisia.
Soon afterwards, he was on his way to BGs headquarters in Reading, England to find out more about his companys involvement with triathlon and how he could bring the sport to his country. He was directed to ITU and introduced to its Sport Development programme.
I never heard about such a programme for sport development, admits Abdouli. Usually inside the countries any sport has to rely on itself for the development of that sport so this was the first time that I saw there is a worldwide programme for developing sport.
After many preliminary phone meetings and a plan of action to get the federation off the ground, Libby Burrell, ITU Director of Sport Development and Ned Wills of BG Group traveled to Tunisia in November of 2006. They met with Abdouli and the movers and shakers of the Tunisian sports scene. They also met with the sport university to set up a specific academic programme to develop local triathlon coaches.
Not only did ITU assist in establishing the first triathlon club in Tunisia, it also helped develop coaches as two Tunisian coaches were also given the opportunity to attend the ITU competitive Coaching Course held in Stellenbosch, South Africa. ITU Sport Development also sent a coach to Tunisia to run a week-long athlete training camp and coach mentoring programme, which coincided with the official launch of the federation.
We had a lot of support from ITU, even beyond the camps and courses. There was a lot of email exchange and any time we needed to ask any questions, we received responses and full support from ITU, said Abdouli.
On July 18, ITU formally announced Tunisia as a fully affiliated national federation, the tenth from Africa to join ITU. Not long after, the country was awarded the honour of hosting the 2008 ATU African Triathlon Championships. In preparation for the event and to keep the momentum going, three Tunisian athletes and a coach attended the African Junior Camp in Potchefstroom, South Africa in December 2007.
This has all been a wonderful experience for us in ITU to be able to work with such a determined and motivated group of administrators, said Burrell, who has worked closely with Abdouli in the past two years. For sure this is an example of how a new federation could and should be established in such a short amount of time.
That triathlon in Tunisia is still in its early stages makes the successful African Championships even more impressive. In addition to staging elite, under23, junior and age-group races, the event hosted coaching courses led by Burrell and ITU Sport Development Manager Alan Ley while ITU Event Development Director Gergely Markus conducted level 1 officials clinics as well. These were all projects and initiatives directed to fostering the sports evolution in Tunisia and northern Africa.
Abdouli admits it wasnt smooth sailing all the way in their maiden event but he remains undeterred and determined to push forward to develop triathlon in Tunisia.
We made some mistakes but it is important for us because we learn from our mistakes, he said. We need to have events and this was a big challenge for us but we think we can now move towards better events and better programmes for our triathletes and coaches.
With Abdouli ambitiously steering the ship, the potential for triathlons growth in Tunisia is tremendous and could become one of the most popular sports in the country.
Bacet is the driving force behind the federation, said Burrell says of Abdouli. As with all good leaders he drives hard to meet his long-term objectives. I see only good things. His heart is in the right place and the athletes and events are his focus. He is a hard working and unselfish man with a dream to provide Tunisian athletes with opportunities to succeed.
Although there were no Tunisians competing in the elite mens and womens fields of the African Championships, the event should be considered a key investment that will net significant returns in the future.