The longstanding institutional indifference can make life difficult for many differently-abled sportsmen in the country but that hasn't deterred a 33-year-old shot put thrower from winning Olympic-level gold medals.
Azeddine Nouiri, Morocco’s double Paralympic gold medallist, was born on July 21, 1986, in Layoune in the Sahara. After his father left the family, Azeddine moved to Asfi with his mother and siblings. That’s where he enrolled in an organisation for people with disabilities. Here he discovered a group of people with disabilities practicing basketball in wheelchairs.
“I started attending all their practice sessions as a viewer and I would help sometimes. If any player was absent for some reason during a session, I would seize the opportunity and use their wheelchair to play some basketball,” he says.
In Asfi, Azeddine started exploring athletic throwing disciplines like the javelin, shot put and discus.
“During major events, I would hear of famous champions and wonder to myself what is preventing me from being like them.”
He realised that his results were not very far off in the javelin and the shot put, so he decided to focus on the shot put even though he admits that he finds this sport boring. In a country where there is a lack of trainers and tools, he felt this was the only way to make it.
“The shot put only costs the price of the shot and a rope, and all I had to do was throw and drag,” he says.
Azeddine met Youssef, who is heavily disabled, at the club in Asfi. He became not only a friend for Youssef but also a guide in his career. They attend training camps together and travel together as roommates which has brought them much closer. Although Youssef hasn’t won any Olympic medals, he is overjoyed for Azeddine’s success and uses his example as his personal motivation to overcome all obstacles.
When asked about the challenges he faces as a Paralympic athlete in Morocco, Azeddine says: “First, we can’t hire a coach because we don’t have the facilities that they require in our cities. We have to wait for the few training camps that are organised for us in order to benefit from the availability of coaches, facilities and equipment. In our own city, we are not allowed to use the proper training court because we are told it is only for able-bodied athletes.
“Unlike other sportspeople, our challenge is multifold because we are not only expected to beat our competitors in the field, we also have to overcome our disability, the lack of training in our city, the limited number of training camps, and the carelessness of the ministry of sports and youth, that is supposed to be our first supporter.”
Even though he has won two Paralympic gold medals, Azeddine’s economic conditions haven’t improved in his home country. “The only chance in our sport is to win the gold medal. The law decrees that I earn a monetary award and also a paid government job, but the government didn’t offer the job -although the job is our higher motivator because we don’t have any stable income otherwise,” he explains.
Azeddine and other Paralympic athletes decided to go on strike because the ministry had promised several times to employ the sportspeople who win world or Olympic championship titles, but even with royal decrees ratifying these promises, the ministry didn’t fulfil them. Azeddine and his friends still struggle for a fair wage to survive.
Azeddine’s next goal is the Paralympic Games in Tokyo 2020. He says: “Despite all the challenges, my nation always comes first. Winning a title is one way to reward back the generous support of my fellow Moroccans and all my friends.”