The United States – A Country Of Concern

An American friend of mine has just sent me an email saying he thinks Washington DC is being now run by “witches, warlocks and demons now running amok in Washington DC”. I agree with him. That is certainly true. The injustice of the Trump “self, first, second and third doctrine” is especially vivid in my case. You see for the past nine months I’ve spent my time coaching swimmers from places Trump can’t stand.

Here, in his own words, is the way President Trump sees the Muslim world. “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.”

Backing up his bigotry this close relative of an American orange orangutan has just signed a 90-day ban on citizens of seven majority Muslim nations – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen – from entering the United States, deeming them, “countries of concern”.

In my work in the city of Jeddah I have had the privilege of coaching and teaching citizens of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Egypt, Sudan, Yemen, Cyprus, Bahrain, the UAE and Iraq. And in every case I’d have any one of them accepted to immigrate to my home country, New Zealand, than this American billionaire horror show.

But I especially want to address the question of people from Syria. Three of the swimmers I coach in Jeddah come from that war ravaged country. And I promise you, in all three cases, you could not find nicer people – boys whose humility comes from an understanding that they have no home. Their country is a mess, a firing range for the Russian and Americans to test their latest military toys. And very few other countries want them. Certainly Trump’s America does not. That’s a shame because the three of them would improve any state that offered them a home.

The oldest is twenty five and will graduate as a doctor of dentistry in five months. He is super intelligent, hardworking and contentious. His father is a surgeon in a Jeddah hospital. When I trod on a nail walking from my hotel to the pool a few months ago the Syrian dentist swimmer came to my room every day for a month to administer antibiotic injections and dress my infected wound. When I needed food he went to the local supermarket. When it was too hot to walk across the strip of Saudi desert to the pool he would turn up at my hotel and order me into his air-conditioned car. I hope one day he applies to live in New Zealand. My country would be a better place for having him live there – no matter what Donald Trump says.

The youngest is still at high school in Jeddah. His father runs the city’s best swim school. His son teaches in the swim school and, as a result, often does the training on his own. Every time that happens I get a WhatsApp message confirming the training has been done and the times for the main set. And never once is there a complaint about the coach not being there. I guess that’s understandable when your grandparents live in Aleppo, in the bombed out rubble they still refer to as home. I guess the importance of the coach not being at training is just a matter of perspective.

And the middle Syrian member is twenty one and is the dentist’s brother. He also has a high IQ and is studying marine engineering at a Jeddah university. He is good at it too. He is normally in the top three students in his class – afraid, he tells me, that any worse result will cause his surgeon father to administer punishment with a well-worn and frequently administered slipper. He is also a very good swimmer. He specialises in 50 and 100 freestyle and butterfly. This year he won the Saudi Arabian National Fins Championship, the Saudi Arabian University National Championship and regularly beats the best Saudi swimmer who also swims in my training group. He is a class act. But he has a problem.

He cannot swim for Saudi Arabia. As things stand right now, you have to be born in the Kingdom to be selected on a Saudi swim team. There is no such thing as naturalisation, no matter what the merits might be. There is a chance that could change and he may be able to swim for the country he calls home – however not just now. There is no Syrian team for him to swim for. And he certainly can’t swim for the United States. You don’t believe me? Well just go ask the President.

And that’s where New Zealand came in and I could not be more proud.

Because this Syrian cannot join a club, because he cannot be a member of FINA, the fastest swimmer in Saudi Arabia, is unable to compete anywhere – no World Cups, no international championships, no national championships, not even in a Division Three junior league meet in any FINA registered sport’s country – except New Zealand.

I asked if the Syrian could join a New Zealand club. I applied for him to become a member of Swimming New Zealand. I will soon enter him in the New Zealand Open Championships being held in Auckland on the 5 April 2017. And he has been accepted. For the first time in his twenty one year life someone has said to him “Yes, it’s okay. You can come and play in our pool.” Well done New Zealand. Thank you Gwen. The President of the United States could learn from you both.