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French Version

Sailors to race across Mediterranean

Competition to start at Beirut's Marina Sunday and will finish in Hammamat in Tunisia
"La Route d'Elissa" is the first international sailing contest for women, with prizes totalling 80, 000 euros

By reviving the legend of Princess Dido, "La Route d'Elissa" sailboat race is not merely a sports challenge, according to its organizers:
It represents a cultural odyssey of sorts, a mixture of histories and an interlacing of societies.

During a news conference held at the UN house ESCWA, "La Route d'Elissa" was announced as the first international sail boat race for women across the Mediterranean.

The race will begin at Beirut's Marina on Sunday and will finish in Hammamet in Tunisia nearly 10 days and 2,320-kilometers later. Prizes totalling 80,000 euros and a trophy will be awarded to the winners.

"La Route d'Elissa" is the first race of its kind to garner United Nations support and it is being seen by UN officials as way of championing sports as a viable cultural exchange between developing countries and as a means of promoting education, health and peace. "La Roue d'Elissa promotes the culture of dialogue," as Pascale Kassis, a member in the UN Information Center (UNIC), put it simply.

Najib Gouiaa, the race's organizer, said that the importance of the event rested in the "symbols of humanity and femininity the Mediterranean enjoys."

For Gouiaa, "it remains a deep desire to meet alongside the Mediterranean on the two sides of the shore, to mix with professional sportsmen and amateurs," adding that this was the desire of the Queen of the Sea, Elissa, who rose from being known as the Phoenician Princess Dido to later found Carthage.

The historical link is not mere pretext, said Gouiaa since a key aim of the race is to get people to rediscover the link between Mediterranean countries through their shared maritime history.

Elissa's story fits in well with this aim: The legendary princess fled her native kingdom of Tyre for the coast of present day Tunisia after Pygmalion, her greedy brother, murdered her uncle and husband. The princess chose her exile and headed westward, escaping by ship to found a new kingdom.

The five competing "La Route d'Elissa" sailboats will, naturally enough, be led by women skippers, although the crews will be mixed. However, that decision highlights the place that has been earned by women in top-level sailing competitors over the years almost as much as the historical significance of the link to a previous female explorer.

Although the majority of the competitors are Europeans, organizers have arranged for Lebanese and Tunisian sportswomen to open the route by leading the boats into the Mediterranean.

Beirut,08 30 2004
Hania Taan
The Daily Star
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