Runners in opposition-held Daraa province gear up for a race on Monday. Photo courtesy of General Commission of Sports and Youth in Syria.

AMMAN: A representative from a Daraa sports commission told Syria Direct on Wednesday they are determined to keep athletics alive “despite the destruction the war has caused to our sports facilities.”

Earlier this week, the six-week-old Daraa branch of the General Commission of Sports and Youth in Syria, an opposition sports NGO formed in 2014 as an alternative to the Syrian regime’s General Sports Federation, held a three-kilometer race marking the fifth anniversary of the Syrian revolution.

Fifty-five runners representing opposition-held areas of Syria’s southern Daraa province gathered behind a freshly-painted starting line on a road flanked by olive trees in Daraa’s al-Muzayrib town near the Syrian-Jordanian border on Monday, in pictures posted online the same day.

“Holding sports competitions under the difficult conditions in Syria sends a message to the world,” Musa Abu Aoun, head of the General Commission’s Daraa branch told Syria Direct on Wednesday. “Despite the destruction the war has caused to our sports facilities, we are continuing in full swing.”

 One of 55 runners who participated in Daraa’s 3k on Monday. Photo courtesy of General Commission for Sports and Youth in Syria.

With branches in five provinces (Daraa, Homs, Aleppo, Idlib, Outer Damascus), the sports commission holds tournaments and other events including soccer, volleyball, wrestling and martial arts in opposition-held territories with the support of the Turkey-based Abdel Kader Sankari Humanitarian Foundation.

“An athlete’s dream doesn’t die,” reads one of the General Commission’s slogans, posted on the group’s Facebook page.

Providing outlets for sports fans and athletes in a war zone poses a number of challenges. “We don’t operate in hot zones like Daraa city, where there is constant fighting,” says Abou Aoun, in an attempt to “avoid injuries to the participants.”

Avoiding bombardment, which has greatly diminished in Daraa province since the beginning of a “cessation of hostilities” late last month, is another concern, the same official says. “We wait to hear over walkie-talkies that the planes have departed, then travel while it is calm.”

Many of the athletes who participate in the General Commission’s events are opposition fighters, whose participation in sporting events serves an extra purpose.

“One of the benefits of athletics is to raise their fitness level, which will help them in the battle against the Syrian regime,” said Abou Aoun.