Lebanese shooter hoping to raise spirits back home with Tokyo success

Safra (Lebanon) (AFP) –


Lebanon's trap shooter Ray Bassil says she is off to the Tokyo Olympics on a mission to win a medal and spread a little joy among Lebanese struggling amid economic crisis.

All hopes are pinned on the 32-year-old athlete in the Mediterranean nation, which has not brought home a medal in decades since a bronze in Greco-Roman wrestling in Moscow in 1980.

At a practice range north of the capital Beirut, she took aim with her shotgun, focused, and waited for the clay plate to be flung across the sky.

Lebanon's famed cedar tree emblazoned on almost every part of her outfit, she took part in one of her last practice sessions ahead of the competition on July 28 and 29.

"My goal is to win an Olympic medal, not just take part," she said at the shooting club in Safra.

I want to "bring some joy to the people of my country".

Bassil started out in the sport aged 14, accompanying her father Jack on shooting trips.

By the age of 16, she was taking part in her first competition abroad in Algeria.

She has since climbed up the rankings in the region and internationally, winning gold in one event of the World Cup circuit in 2016.

She finished 18th in the trap shooting at the London Olympics, and then 14th at the last Summer Games in Rio.

- 'Bring hope' -

For the upcoming competition in Japan, Bassil has been training hard despite some setbacks.

After catching Covid-19, she sprang back into training earlier this year despite a round-the-clock coronavirus curfew in Lebanon, at first practising in the car park below her building.

She then headed off to a shooting range in the town of Massa Martana in Italy, far from the "negative distractions" at home.

"I needed more appropriate surroundings to perfect my skills and prepare for the Olympics," she said.

Lebanon is mired in its worst economic crisis in history, and poverty has soared to more than half the population.

Hundreds of thousands are struggling to make ends meet amid spiralling inflation, fuel and medicine shortages, and endless power cuts.

Those who can afford it have left the country for better lives abroad, while at home the country has been without a fully functioning government for more than 11 months.

A probe into a deadly port blast last summer has failed to hold any officials to account, sparking ever-growing popular discontent.

Bassil says she needs to focus.

"I know the situation in Lebanon is really bad. People are tired and we're all mentally exhausted. But I don't want that to affect me," she said.

"I want to change our outlook and help Lebanese breathe a bit. Maybe sports can help bring hope to Lebanon."

- 'Not for any government' -

Bassil says preparing for Tokyo has been complicated in a country fast running out of cash, where banking restrictions have kept people's savings trapped in the bank.

"Even getting the bullets hasn't been easy," she said.

"Supporters in Italy and some Lebanese had to help me get them shipped to Beirut."

But she says she managed to scrape together the minimum funds to compete in Japan, appealing to private sponsors on top of help from the sports ministry and the national Olympic committee.

The trap shooter is just one of six athletes from Lebanon set to compete in Tokyo.

They also include Nacif Elias in judo, female weightlifter Mahassen Fattouh, and sprinter Noureddine Hadid.

Munzer Kabbara and his female counterpart Gabriella Doueihy are to swim for Lebanon.

"My country really needs me and the rest of my colleagues to perform," Bassil said.

"(But) what I want to achieve is for myself and my family, and the Lebanese people, not for any government."