'The photos damage your soul': UAE-based legendary basketball player Fadi El Khatib on dedicating his Instagram page to Gaza

Legendary Lebanese basketball player Fadi El Khatib, who recently opened a branch of his chain of sports club in Dubai, talks about what sports can teach you mentally and physically


Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Wed 20 Dec 2023, 8:06 PM

Last updated: Thu 21 Dec 2023, 8:48 AM

One look at Fadi El Khatib and you are likely to think he is invincible. At 6’6”, the 45-year-old is the iconic basketball player who is often called ‘Lebanese tiger’. But the external toughness and a luminous career are evenly matched with an empathy that belies the image of the modern celebrity as a cold and distant public figure. Khatib, who retired from professional basketball in 2020, has been spotlighting the importance of fitness among those who aspire to pursue a career in sports, an endeavour that has seen him open branch of his sports club Champ in the UAE as well. Having a robust following of a million people on Instagram, he recently dedicated his page to those who have been killed or injured in Gaza. In a conversation with City Times, Khatib, who divides his time between UAE and Lebanon, talks about how the spirit of sportsmanship is something to possess and cherish through the course of one’s life. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Tell us about your formative years. When exactly did your interest in basketball take root?

I used to be a football player when I was in high school. One of the great coaches in basketball pulled me out from the football team and asked me to try basketball instead because I was one of the tallest kid in the school. When I started playing basketball, which is around the age of 11, I realised this was my passion. The skills began to grow. I would be the guy who’d do 5- or 10-minute-long drills. My family too recognised my talent and was very supportive of it, even though initially they thought my studies would get impacted. But I finished school and began to play at the age of 16. I was probably the youngest to play professionally in Lebanon. By the age of 18, I was already in the national team.

The journey to becoming ‘the Lebanese tiger’ has not been easy. At the same time, the social realities of the Middle East can also influence one’s journey. How did it shape you as a sportsman?

Nothing comes easy in life. But when you want to be a successful person, you will outgrow challenges and obstacles and self-doubt. There will be people who will pull you down. There is no easy way to success than hard work and giving your 100 per cent, and spending your days doing extra work. I did all that and it was not easy . The only good thing is it made me mentally tougher, which, in turn, helped me structure my business in a proper way. All these things come together to make you a better sportsman.

You experienced multiple injuries in your career. Apart from physical healing, what did these experiences teach you mentally?

When you are mentally tough and are able to handle all the challenges, you become man enough to accept circumstances. While I did have injuries, I continued to play over it. No injury, for example, could keep me out of the court for a month. Honestly, my build has been a great asset. In a nutshell, whether the obstacle is in form of injury or not, the key is to move on. It always builds your spirit.

You started Champs in the UAE following its success in Lebanon. What are the ideas that informed your decision to open this sports club in the first place?

The Champs in UAE is my fifth baby. The idea is to reach out to people who may not be 100 per cent fit, but who want to reach a level of fitness because they aspire to be in sports. In professional sports, developing a level of fitness is essential to the game. To be an athlete, you have to work on your body. Today, I have been able to build an amazing community of fitness enthusiasts and I can comfortably say my main role is to help them become fit and healthy sportspersons.

You speak passionately about fitness. At this stage of your life, what keeps you driven and motivated?

It has to be my family — my kids and my wife. They continue to be a source of strength. I am very grateful to have them in my life.

Which brings me to the next question, you have often spoken about parenting and the need to moderate children’s expectations. What led you to speak on the matter?

I speak a lot about it. Sometimes, people misunderstand me. When I say that do not spoil your kids, it does not mean that I am asking you not to love or support your child. I am actually the most loved dad there could ever be. I support my kids and I am very attached to them. But when you overdo something, it takes a turn for the negative. That is why I tell people we have to give them a chance to take responsibilities because today, we might be with them, but not tomorrow. We want them to build a character so that they can handle their problems. No life will be without difficult situations, but if they do not have inner resources to handle them, they will feel lost. That’s also how I raised my kids.

Following October 7, you have dedicated your Instagram page, where you have more than a million followers, to Gaza. What have been some of the most poignant messages you have received?

I am doing it out of a sense of justice. I do receive a lot of messages ever since I spoke up. There are people who would write to me saying they used to look up to me, but now they love me more because I am talking about this. I am not doing this because I want people to love me more, but because there are people who are dying there in worst ways. As a celebrity, I hope this enables others to speak up on the issue.

The pictures one finds on social media are really, really heartbreaking. It damages your soul. It gets to me to an extent that I cannot concentrate on anything, because I cannot see a child suffering, I think this is the only weakness I have. I try not to watch those pictures and videos. I wish this ends soon because Palestinian people deserve a way better life.

What sort of fitness regimen do you follow on a daily basis?

What I do now revolves around taking care of carb and protein intake. Sometimes, I do cheat. But I manage my food properly on most days. I am a healthy person, in general. So I tend to think a lot about what I eat. For example, if I ate something unhealthy on Monday, I will compensate for it by eating clean during the rest of the week. This helps in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.



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