As we head into the last seven days of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, Brazil, we should be talking about Egyptian athlete, Sara Ahmed Samir, being the first Egyptian woman to have won a medal at the games. Instead, we – and the world – are talking about Islam El Shehaby’s outrageously poor show of sportsmanship.
After losing a much talked about bout against Israeli judoka, Or Sasson, El Shehaby refused to shake hands with his opponent, after which we was rightly jeered by the watching crowds.
Though El Shehaby has not officially addressed the incident, many have pointed to the pressure heaped on by fans and media in the run-up to the face off with many social media users suggesting that he would be considered a ‘traitor’ if he lost.
But we shouldn’t be surprised by either El Shehaby’s actions or indeed the reaction back at home. Sportsmanship has never been a strong suit for sports in Egypt. Just a few days prior, we saw Al Ahly players lose their rag towards the end of the Egyptian Cup Final against bitter Cairo rivals, Zamalek, having two players sent off in the closing minutes for petulant challenges.
Not content with throwing their toys out of the pram as the clock wound down to a a derby defeat, the players then continued, after the whistle had gone, to confront Zamalek players and staff – who, if history has taught us anything, should probably share in some of the blame too.
Not long before that, we saw Hossam Hassan – a man considered to be one of the most prolific footballers in the modern era – chase down a photographer and assault him, amidst more on-pitch mayhem; and the list of embarrassing sports incidents just goes on and on. And it’s an embarrassment.
It’s an embarrassment that the world is talking about it. Its an embarrassment that we just can’t seem to accept losing. It’s an embarrassment that El Shehaby brought politics into sport. It’s an embarrassment that, in an Olympics that has seen a team of refugees take part, we have blighted the name of Egypt on the world stage.
And for those who insisted that El Shehaby should withdraw; what? Are you serious? Do you think that it would make a statement? What statement exactly? Do you think that El Shehaby did his country proud? Do you think that anyone was impressed? Do you think Sasson cares? Do you think that Israel cares? Do you think that the act of refusing a handshake was a symbolic victory for Palestine and the rest of the Arab world?
No. All the world saw was a loser refusing to show respect to his victorious opponent. It’s an embarrassment.
By Haisam Awad