Egyptian kebab-shop wrestler sparks debate after winning for Bulgaria
After being tossed aside by Egypt's wrestling federation, a young grappler and kebab shop worker has made a controversial comeback while representing a different country.
Tarek Abdel Salam, on Sunday, emerged victorious in the Greco-Roman 75kg division at European Wrestling Championships. However, the Egyptian ran his victory lap around the ring with a Bulgarian flag on his shoulders, United World Wrestling reported.
The triumph was a bittersweet one for the 23-year-old, who after winning several big competitions for his homeland found himself with injuries that Egyptian authorities were allegedly unwilling to help him rehabilitate.
"The federation didn't want to help me out with a neck injury. I tried for six months but they weren't interested. They had the old fashioned idea that surgery would end my career," Abdel Salam told local Egyptian media after taking the top spot.
He explained that he gave up on his sports career and decided to immigrate to Bulgaria, where he worked in a doner kebab shop to makes ends meet. That was until he was scouted for his wrestling talent and granted Bulgarian nationality.
"I wish I could have been holding up the Egyptian flag and that I could have represented Egypt at the Rio Olympics but unfortunately the members of the federation only care about their own interests," he added.
The wrestler's story has gone viral on social media with many users slamming sporting authorities for not encouraging his skills and outright neglecting him.
The Egyptian minister of sport has denied Abdel Salam's allegations, claiming that his medical expenses had been paid and that the sportsman had defected while at a training camp in Bulgaria.
The Egyptian Wrestling Federation have claimed that he "sold Egypt for a Bulgarian girl", who had sent him an invitation to live in the Eastern European country.
The federation has also demanded their Bulgarian counterpart pay a fine of 100,000 Swiss Francs or return Abdel Salam back to Egypt.
This would not be the first time Egypt has been accused of neglecting athletes.
In 2015, a Judo, sumo and powerlifting champion was forced to become a street vendor of dates because of a lack of interest in his talent.
Egypt has a history of international success in combat sports and weightlifting.
Karam Gaber, Egypt's best-ever Greco-Roman wrestler won three Olympic medals before he was banned for two years for violating anti-doping rules.