Ghanim Al Muftah, who stole the show at the opening ceremony of the World Cup along with Hollywood actor Morgan Freeman, is one of the biggest celebrities in Qatar now. In fact, motivational speaker and social media influencer Ghanim has been a familiar face in the Middle East. While trying to meet him in person, I came across a Keralite – Kumbalangi native Josi Antony – who was Ghanim's personal trainer some years ago.
Josi told me that it was not possible to meet Ghanim now as he was undergoing treatment for health issues associated with caudal retraction syndrome. Also known as caudal dip or sacral dysgenesis, it is a rare congenital disorder that occurs when the lower part of the spine is not fully formed before birth.
Josi was Ghanim's swimming instructor for over ten years.
"Ghanim was brought to me when he was three-and-a-half years old. In 2005, I quit my job at the Doha Indian School and went back to Kerala. It was then Ghanim's mother Eman requested me to return to Qatar. She wanted me to train her children in aquatic sports. I accepted the invitation and started conducting training sessions for her two children at the swimming pool in the Muftah family's home in Al Wakrah."
"Ghanim and his twin brother Ahmed were treated by Eman and her husband Muhammed Ahmed Ali Mustafa the same way. They were not concerned that one of the siblings had a disability. Ahmed played football like any other child while Ghanim played with his hands. They are the most affable and peculiar siblings I have ever come across in my life," says Josi.
Ghanim and Ahmed have a sister – Garisa – who is five years older to them. "They are very close to my daughter Jislin," says Josi.
Ghanim became a social media sensation after he shared his incredible life story with his followers. With more than seven million followers on TikTok, more than 3.3 million on Instagram, and nearly a million subscribers on YouTube, he is one of the major social media influencers in the Middle East now. The Qatari royal family has always been a strong pillar of support for Ghanim. Ghanim and Ahmed are currently pursuing a degree in Political Science from a university in London.
"The strong bond we share with Ghanim's family is the most valued thing we earned from our life in Qatar," say Josi, who is also a painter, and his wife Mary Diaz. "When Ghanim was young, he used to call me 'Coachee'. I only taught him how to swim, but it is him and his family who taught me a lot about life," adds Josi, who currently works as an aquatics instructor at the America School of Doha.