Pope Francis looks over the river Nile from a terrace in Cairo, Egypt April 29, 2017. (Xinhua/Reuters Photo)
CAIRO, May 7 (Xinhua) -- The 2,000-year-old Chinese dragon boat racing has found a new waterway in Egypt's Nile River after the Dragon Boat Academy has recently been inaugurated at Royal Mohamed Ali Club in Giza province, part of greater Cairo.
"It brings Egypt and China closer and will enable us to send Egyptian players to join dragon boat racing in China and host Chinese teams here in Egypt," said Ehab Gouda, co-founder of the Egyptian Dragon Boat Academy.
"The two peoples will come closer through sports and mutual love and respect and avoidance of political issues. Sports give people hope in the future," the man, who first brought the sport to Egypt last year, told Xinhua.
Gouda has been working hard on spreading dragon boating back home after he mastered the sport in Hong Kong and Guangzhou until the first dragon boat festival was successfully held last October.
He is currently training several groups of players to prepare for the next festival on May 20, where dragon boat teams from Spain, Cyprus and others will take part.
The trainees, mostly dragon boating for the first time, have been so excited during the ride as they sat in two rows and learned how to harmoniously row their sticks together to keep the boat movement smooth and balanced.
They also enjoyed the pulling competition at the end of the training, where two groups of trainees at the front and tail of the same dragon boat rowed in opposite directions and the movement of boat forward or backward decided the winners.
Yehia Khair El-Deen, a trainee of the winning group, said that he loved the dragon boat round they made between Giza's Manial and Cairo's Maadi districts during the training, noting that it was his first time to exercise dragon boating.
"It was a fascinating view among the Nile River islands and the sport is very nice. Although it is exhausting for the muscles, it is really such an enjoyable sport," the young man, who works as an engineer at a multinational company, told Xinhua.
For her part, Abeer Ali, a university graduate and boat rowing player, said that she loved her first experience of dragon boating, stressing that sports generally bring peoples together, especially water sports.
"Having the Nile River makes us always connected with water, so I believe the dragon boat sport can easily spread in Egypt as it is connected with the Nile River," she explained, adding that it brings the peoples of river-based old civilizations like Egypt and China closer.
As for Sayyid Diab, a coach at Royal Mohamed Ali Club and a strong dragon boat player for six months now, he loved dragon boating as "a team-based game," for it combines both sport and picnic and urges team working among people who do not even know each other.
"Since it entered Egypt, we as Egyptians loved dragon boating and started to hold festivals for it. Many people from the Chinese community in Egypt also started to play this sport here. I learned that the Chinese are kind, friendly and hospitable just like Egyptians," Diab told Xinhua.
Over 100 countries have dragon boat federations, including China, Russia, Italy, Germany, France, Britain and the United States. In the Arab world, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon have dragon boat federations. In Africa, Nigeria, Cameron and South Africa also have ones.
The founders of Egypt's Dragon Boat Academy, which was inaugurated by Chinese Ambassador to Cairo Song Aiguo in mid-December last year, work on promoting the sport in several Egyptian clubs to later communicate with the Egyptian sports ministry for approval and support to establish an Egyptian dragon boat federation.
Mary Lai, the academy's co-founder from Hong Kong who has been living in Egypt for almost 30 years, said that the first dragon boat festival was timely as it marked the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Egypt and China.
She pointed out that ancient Egyptians had similar boats but they called them "Pharaonic boats," referring to the similarities between the Egyptian and Chinese cultures.
"The academy seeks to teach Egyptians how to exercise dragon boating, regardless of their ages, and we're preparing an Egyptian dragon boat team to join a festival in China in 2018," Mary said.