A Bloody Good Kiwi Bloke

Marine Engineer Eyad When I First Met Him In Jeddah

Since approximately 10,000 BC, Syria was one of the centres of Neolithic culture where agriculture and cattle breeding appeared for the first time. Archaeologists have demonstrated that civilization in Syria was one of the most ancient on earth. Syria is truly a cradle of civilization.

Today Syria is bordered by Lebanon to the southwest, the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Turkey to the north, Iraq to the east, Jordan to the south, and Israel to the southwest; a country of fertile plains, high mountains, and deserts.

Anyone would be proud to call Syria home. But Syria has a problem. Since March 2011, Syria has been embroiled in an armed conflict. The Americans, the Israelis, the Turks, the Russians and anyone else who felt like a scrap have disgracefully used Syria as a means of proving how tough they are. The behaviour of the international community especially Trump and Putin towards a fine and important country is a disgrace.

As a result, Syria is ranked last on the Global Peace Index, making it the most violent country in the world due to the war. The war has caused more than 470,000 deaths, 7.6 million internally displaced people, and over 5 million refugees.

I happen to know one of those 5 million refugees. I have introduced him to you before. His name is Eyad Masoud. I met him on my second day working as a coach for the Saudi Arabian Swimming Federation. Eyad and his brother Yamen came to my pool with a Saudi swimmer, called Loai. They asked for my help coaching their swimming. I was surprised. Like many Westerners I was full of stereotype images of every other race in the world. Arabs were all small guys riding around on camels. But these three didn’t fit that picture at all – over six foot and built like bodybuilders, I wondered if they could swim.

Because my pool was a government run public (except for women of course) facility and because Eyad and Yamen were Syrians I had to get them special permission to swim in the pool. That done we went to see if they could swim. And that was my second surprise of the day. They could swim extremely well. All three were shockingly unfit – Eyad couldn’t manage 10×100 on 1.30 for example – but their feel of the water showed their huge potential.

I coached Eyad, Loai and Yamen for my year in Jeddah. Loai won a silver medal at the Gulf States Championships in the 400IM. Because of their Syrian nationality Eyad and Yamen were not permitted to enter that competition. However Eyad did win the Saudi Arabian Universities 50 meter championship. We felt it had been a successful year.

I then came back to New Zealand. Yamen and Eyad were kicked out of the public pool again and Loai decided to retire. As far as swimming was concerned things were not looking good. Yamen decided to focus on completing his degree in dentistry. Eyad worked hard on an engineering degree and training on his own in the British International School’s 25m pool. For six months Eyad did a fantastic job of swimming schedules I sent each week from New Zealand.

With some difficulty we got him a New Zealand visitor’s visa to swim in the national championships. He loved the place. He enjoyed lunch on Waiheke Island. He bungy jumped off the Auckland Harbour Bridge. He visited Whangarei and laughed at the sign in the pool that said, “No Bombing Allowed.” Where Eyad comes from that message has a whole different meaning. And so Eyad decided to see if he could stay.

He contacted immigration lawyer, Deborah Manning. That was a stroke of luck. Deborah and one of her associate lawyers, Simon, are skilled, able and honest. Eyad was soon accepted by Immigration New Zealand as a refugee. He was one of only 100 Syrian refugees accepted into New Zealand that year.

Eyad has settled in well. He has a secure part-time job in the excellent Millennium Swim School. He has resumed his engineering studies at Auckland University. But what about his swimming you may be asking? Well the regular training available in New Zealand is working. He is improving at a hundred miles an hour. It has also been an interesting exercise from my coaching point of view.

I can see now why the International Olympic Committee’s refugee program is so important. These athletes have had such a difficult start to their sporting lives. They have missed fundamentals never considered by more fortunate western athletes. In his early 20s Eyad is learning basics that should have been taught ten years ago. It is so bloody unfair. But we are lucky. His talent and IQ mean he is catching up very quickly. It has been tough, far tougher than any other swimmer I have coached. But he is getting there. His next competition is the New Zealand National Championships in three weeks’ time.

But today Eyad had some fantastic news. New Zealand became home. Eyad became one of us. You see today Eyad was accepted by Immigration New Zealand as a New Zealand resident. Welcome Eyad. It’s great to have you here. We are a better place for your presence.  On my way to training in the morning I’ll stop at the petrol station on Lincoln Road and get you an Uncle Ben’s New Zealand meat pie – something to properly celebrate being a Kiwi. You can decide whether to have it before or after your 600 time trial.


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