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Jordanian Cyclists Quit the Sport Due to Poor Safety Provisions

Marah Youssif and Muaz Zreiqi

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clock icon 18/02/2023

Eighteen-year-old Hamzah Abboushi was cycling on the Salt Road at six o’clock in the morning along with twelve other cyclists in preparation for the 2019 Algerian Cycling Championship. Even though he was in the right lane and was wearing a helmet, he was hit by a car and fainted only to wake up in hospital with four spinal fractures, eight damaged tendons in his hand and deep wounds all over his body.

The Civil Defence Directorate transferred Hamzah to Salt General Hospital and called his father who saw his son in a “deplorable state” and insisted on transferring him to a private hospital.

Salt General Hospital is the same hospital where ten people infected with the Coronavirus died last year due to the lack of oxygen, and five employees were convicted of negligence in the incident.

Hamzah was hospitalized for ten consecutive days and underwent an urgent back surgery to place a platinum plate in his vertebrae. This was at the cost of thirteen thousand Jordanian Dinars or ($18300), paid by the person who caused the accident. After that, he started treatment at home, which cost his father two thousand Jordanian Dinars or ($2800). Moreover, Hamzah missed out on a lot of his schoolwork.

The Jordan Cycling Federation has merely offered Hamzah a bouquet of flowers and only paid him a visit at home. Hamzah’s father Abdel Hafeez Abboushi says, “The federation did not cover the costs of my son’s treatment or even fix his bicycle.”

Hamzah’s accident revealed many challenges that athletes in the Jordan Cycling Federation face concerning their health, injuries and accidents insurance. There is no law as such; rather, there are some loose instructions that deny them the right to treatment, and this prevents them from participating in tournaments in the name of the Kingdom of Jordan. Those laws also make them withdraw their membership of the federation, which includes twenty-one cyclists between the ages of twelve and twenty-five for women and the age of thirty for men.

Hamzah has been a professional cyclist since 2015. On that day, he did not expect that he would go to the hospital instead of going to the airport to represent his country. His father and his brother Mohammad were also part of the Jordan Cycling Federation in 1988, when they too abandoned their plans to represent Jordan in domestic and international championships. They dedicated large spaces of their home to professional bicycles which they bought for more than 7,000 Jordanian Dinars ($9,873).

After the accident, the family decided that Mohammad should also withdraw from the federation. He had won the Arab Bronze medal in Egypt in 2017.

Rashid* had won the Jordan cycling Championship once. He also withdrew from the federation in 2015 after a car accident during training. His sister and their friend followed suit and left the federation too.

Rashid sustained fractures to his ribs, and suffered deep wounds all over his body, nearly losing his retina. “The helmet I was wearing broke into two pieces, and they kept examining my eyes as they noticed that they were extremely red.” He adds that the federation did not pay for his treatment, and they merely visited him at the hospital. Rashid’s father had passed away. The receipts and medical statements show that the woman who caused the accident paid the hospital costs, and she sponsored Rashid’s medications and examinations after he was discharged.

There is no law that commits federations to providing health insurance to their players, but Article (7) of the internal instructions of the Jordan Cycling Federation stipulates that the federation shall secure the necessary treatments and medicines for athletes who are injured during “training accidents.” Cross-checking this with the federation revealed that this refers to accidents resulting from falling off the bicycle or due to hitting the pavement, and it does not include car accidents.

The health insurance offered by the Jordan Olympic Committee provides most national team athletes with insurance against accidents, which it limits to “sports injuries.”

The committee states that “National team athletes nominated by the various sports federations at the International Players Association are covered by insurance if they meet membership conditions. They are usually treated at the Royal Medical Services or at the University of Jordan Hospital.”

The cyclists usually train alongside traffic on main roads in Al-Salt, Madaba, and Al-Adasiyyah-Dead Sea, most days of the week, travelling in excess of 80 kilometres a day. How can the federation and the committee exclude car accidents from the insurance cover and treatment is absurd.

There are no lawyers specialized in the cases of athletes injuries and especially cyclists in Jordan. Despite this, human rights lawyers are critical of the “ loose texts of the law or rules” and of the definition of the word “accidents” as simply an act of falling off the bicycle. Hala Ahed is a human rights activist and lawyer says that “The word “accidents” is broad and has always been specific to the act of training; therefore, car accidents during training sessions are included in this definition.”

Lawyer Ahmad Al-Sawa’i who is familiar with the athletes’ cases, agrees with Ahed’s and adds that , “Since the instructions did not specify the definition, it is illogical to restrict them to falling accidents, especially since the federation is not the authorized entity that interprets the law.”


Withdrawals from the federation due to accidents

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Youssif Al-Baroudi joined the federation in 2011, but decided to quit four years later. His training consisted of 4 hours cycling training daily and eight hours training on weekends. He decided to quit for fear of injuring himself while training, as that took place on public streets without any supervising cars that accompany the cyclists, sometimes even without a coach or supervisor.

Youssif is not alone to reach that conclusion, Samar Al-Khob who joined the federation in 2007, had to withdraw in 2012. Her training led her to cycle tens of kilometres among trucks on Al-Adasiyyah road, and around Sports City, where there are no dedicated bicycle lanes. She had to overcome potholes, bumps and manholes, “A truck could easily catapult you because bicycles are light; every time I train, I think about the injuries and who would cover my treatment in case of accidents. During my training I have suffered injuries, but the federation did not cover the cost of my treatment. Also I witnessed colleagues being involved in accidents, and felt that I could lose my life at any moment too, ” she says.

The sports federations are usually affiliated with the Jordan Olympic Committee while the role of the Ministry of Youth is limited to the handling of clubs affiliated with the federations. Therefore, it is not the duty of the Ministry of Youth to encourage young people to participate in certain sports or to intervene in the event of their withdrawals. Rather, its role is limited to handling complaints or violations of regulations and instructions. The Secretary-General of the Ministry of Youth Hussein Al-Jbour points out that this is especially the case since the headquarters of most federations are inside the facilities and stadiums of the Ministry of Youth where athletes train. The ministry allocates 1.2 million Jordanian Dinars or ($1.69 million) towards the expenses of 400 clubs that are supervised by local councils.

As for the Jordan Sport Medicine Federation, whose mission is to protect athletes from injuries by conducting a complete medical analysis of high-performance and national team players before they participate in competitions. It also carries out training sessions to graduate sports therapists to enable them to deal with injuries.

The Olympic Committee remit does not extend to the technical affairs of sports federations. In response to the letter addressed to the entity as part of the right to access information, the committee says, “Sports federations have the full authority to form teams and to monitor national team athletes included in the annual plan approved by the technical committees.”

The head of the Jordan Cycling Federation Khalaf Al-Ashoush assumed his position at the beginning of this year and succeeded Jamal Al-Faouri who presided over the federation for twenty-five years. Al-Ashoush denies that there have been athletes withdrawals from the federation despite all the information stating otherwise. His words, verbatim, were as follows, “Things are going well; we don’t currently have any imminent athletes withdrawal.”


Old and dangerous bicycles

Just like other federations, the Jordan Cycling Federation receives 120,000 Jordanian Dinars annually ($169,000) from the Jordan Olympic Committee. The sum is spent on the salaries of workers, coaches and the maintenance of the department. It also covers travel expenses for competitions purposes.

The federation has three technical staff members, three administrators and two part-time coaches.

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3 technical staff members

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3 administrators

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2 part-time coaches

It also owns thirty bicycles, the last bicycle purchase was before the new director assumed his duties this year. Youssif Al-Baroudi describes the federation bicycles as old, and a joke, even nicknamed “Umm Kulthum,” hence, most athletes use their own bicycles in training and in tournaments. Rashid*: Rashid claims that “The federation bicycles are extremely worn out, their brakes are tricky, and the wheels are not 100% aligned.”

Since federation bicycles are old, cyclists are forced to buy bicycles at their own expense. Sari Al-Husseini owns a bicycle shop, and he says that the prices of professional bicycles in the Jordanian market start from 1,200 Dinars ($1,693). He adds that they need regular maintenance every three months at a cost of ten to twenty-five Jordanian Dinars ($14 to $35). Seasonal maintenance depends on the worn parts. If maintenance is done regularly, the cost will not exceed 50 Jordanian Dinars ($70), but if neglected, the cost of repairs may reach 400 Jordanian Dinars ($564).

During six years of professional cycling, Mohammad Leswi had three traffic accidents, one of which destroyed the bicycle. He says, “I learned from this accident that the law considers me a pedestrian, I filed a complaint, and the case was treated like I was run over.”

Those who caused the accident offered to compensate Leswi by paying for the bicycle, but once they learned it is worth 1,000 Jordanian Dinars they changed their minds. Leswi resorted to court, and the insurance company paid for the bicycle. It took a full year to ascertain the actual price of the bicycle and another six months before the agent could do the valuation procedures and issue a tax invoice.

Although athletes buy the bicycles at their own expense, they cannot insure the bicycle itself against accidents. Mutaz Qaqish, a public relations manager for an insurance company, and runs a bicycle trips business on the side, explains that insurance companies treat bicycle insurances as property insurance whereby the subscriber provides the insurance company with purchase invoices along with the commercial record of a licensed company, and they conclude a contract with a certain amount to be compensated in case of damage. Qaqish says, “Insurance companies provide a compensation in the event of complete damage, and they pay nothing towards partial damages or maintenance.”


The manholes of the municipality of Amman

In a public transportation study in Jordan 2022, the World Bank recommended the need to develop a safe infrastructure for cyclists in urban areas to support the public transportation systems. No plan has yet been set into motion to act on these recommendations, and even the Jordan Cycling Federation is not aware of it.

The Jordan Cycling Federation lodged an official request at the Greater Amman Municipality recommending the amendment of the codes on building manholes in the capital, so that they are laid in a transverse instead of a longitudinal direction. It also recommended reducing the gaps between the bars of the manhole covers or rainwater drains to take into consideration the narrow width of bicycle wheels.

The president of the federation, Khalaf Al-Ashoush says, “A cyclist fell into the manhole and the bicycle was broken. The federation filed a case against the municipality because it caused the accident due to the direction of the manholes, regardless if the municipality would take measures to remedy that or not.”

Based on the Law on Guaranteeing the Right to Access Information No. 47 of 2007, we went to the Municipality of Amman to inquire about the code of building manholes and the municipality’s plan to solve the problems of cyclists as highlighted in the letter from the federation, and the fate of the World Bank recommendations. For a whole month, the questions were circulated among the municipality’s departments, and they finally reached the Public Relations and Media Department, who declined to respond.

Several factors have formed an environment that is not bicycle-friendly in Jordan, whether for leisure riding or for professional cycling purposes. These factors include the lack of insurance against accidents; not providing physiotherapy for athletes after injuries; the poor conditions of the roads; and the lack of intention to change the status quo. Cyclists withdrew from the federation to save their lives, and others may follow if the situation remains unchanged.