Hundreds gathered at the capital’s Republic Square on Monday to welcome back Maldivian athletes who competed at the 2019 Indian Ocean Island Games in Mauritius.
The contingent included young female athletes who became national icons after winning the country’s first gold medals in badminton and table tennis at an international multi-sport tournament.
The women’s table tennis team won the country’s first gold medal in a team event and Nabeeha Abdul Razzaq won the women’s singles event in badminton. The duo of 11-year-old Fathmath Dheema Ali and 15-year-old Aishath Rafa Nazim won the table tennis doubles event and went on to play each other in the final of the single’s event. The younger girl won the match to clinch her third gold medal at the tournament.
Eleven-year-old Dheema led the team as they emerged from the Maldivian airlines plane that flew the athletes back from Mauritius. They were ferried over from the airport island to Malé on boats decked out with national flags.
As patriotic songs blared out from the military headquarters, young children handed out flower bouquets and crowns to the medal winners when they alighted at the official jetty. Flanked by uproarious supporters waving the national flag, the medalists were escorted along a red carpet by soldiers in traditional garb to be greeted by President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Speaker Mohamed Nasheed and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom as well as the first lady, cabinet ministers and several lawmakers.
The scenes of jubilation were reminiscent of celebrations in 2008 – albeit on a smaller scale with fewer people – when the football team became champions of South Asia for the first time.
In the previous nine editions of the Indian Ocean Island Games, the Maldives only brought home one gold medal, which was won in 2015 by Hassan Saaid in the men’s 100-meter sprint.
In this year’s games, the Maldives team achieved its target of bagging 15 medals after competing in 14 sporting events.
On Saturday, the Maldives won its bid to host IOIG 2023. The games will be the first international multi-sport competition to take place in the country.
The ceremony ended with Sports Minister Ahmed Mahloof presenting the official flag of the games to President Solih.
In his remarks, Mahloof said all the credit was due to the players, their parents and the sports associations. He also praised the athletes for performing well under pressure amid loud support for players from host nation Mauritius.
“If this tournament was played in the Maldives in front of our supporters, I’m sure they would have come with not 15 but 30 medals,” he said.
Photo from the president’s office