Amid war, Syrian PBA import proud of countrymen competing in Rio

MANILA, Philippines – Though he was over 18,000 kilometers away from Rio de Janeiro, focused on his job as a PBA Asian import in Manila, and certainly far from his Olympic dreams, Michael Madanly was still very proud to know his home country of Syria is represented at the Rio Games. 

“Absolutely. We’re all proud that our flag is raised in Rio right now. And after all the chaos there’s still people representing our country in a good way,” shared Madanly, who is back in his second PBA conference after playing last season for NLEX. 

“Just to be there, it’s so much pride for us. Not even (winning) a gold or silver, just to be there, just participating in these Games, it’s (a) very proud (feeling) for me and for all the Syrian people.” 

The 35-year-old cager was one with his fellow Syrian athletes who competed in the Rio Olympics under the first-ever Refugee Team, comprised of 10 athletes from various nations affected by humanitarian crises. Those countries aren’t competing in the Games and the refugee team has battled under the Olympic flag. 

Two Olympians from Syria, Rami Anis and Yusra Mardini, competed in swimming.

Mardini’s journey to Rio was among the most gripping and moving stories from this year’s Games. The 18-year-old, who swam in the women’s 100m butterfly (ranked 40th) and the women’s 100m freestyle (ranked 45th), only a year ago was swimming to stay alive in the Mediterranean Sea.

Countless reports on her story say that she and her sister escaped from the war-ravaged Syria and embarked on a perilous voyage to Germany. As they were crossing the sea from Turkey to Greece, the overloaded dinghy threatened to sink and the two sisters, along with two other men, had to swim and guide the boat for more than 3 hours.

“I heard about that. It’s hard. It’s tough for her to play with the refugee team, she’s supposed to play with our country’s team, Syria,” Madanly said of Mardini. “But you all know what’s going on, we’re still suffering from this war, we’re still suffering from what’s going on.”

Like Mardini, Madanly had to flee from his home of Aleppo in Syria in 2011 as mounting threats to peace loomed. As a professional player, he signed up with the Chinese Basketball Association and has never stopped playing in the international circuit since.

Anis, the 25-year-old swimmer who competed in men’s 100m freestyle (56th) and men’s 100m butterfly (40th), hails from the same hometown as Madanly.  

Aleppo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of the oldest cities in the world and the largest in Syria, has over the years descended into destruction and war between various rebel groups, including terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. 

The war-torn city made headlines in recent days after heartbreaking footage of a bloodied boy went viral online. The boy, who was identified as 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, was seen rescued from the rubble after an airstrike in a part of Aleppo. 

The blank but shocked look on his face – with his eerie silence and his childlike instinct to wipe off blood from his face as if it was common dirt – was seen by many as the face of the Syrian war. 

“We are praying for peace to happen and all those problems to finish. There’s nothing better than peace,” said Madanly, who is raising a child of his own and does not know if he will ever see his fallen Aleppo stand again.

“In the world there is a lot of bad people and in our country right now there are a lot of terrorists and those terrorists are destroying our beautiful country. I hope it’s going to finish soon so we can get back home.” –