Kung fu champion Mohamed Youssef, who has been suspended from competing internationally by Egyptian officials after he made a gesture in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, told Ahram Online he stood by his actions.
While receiving his gold medal at a competition in Russia, Youssef wore a t-shirt displaying the four-fingered symbol associated with the Rabaa Al-Adawiya protest camp.
Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at the camp were violently dispersed in August by security forces.
The Egyptian kung fu association has banned Youssef from representing Egypt in the upcoming world championships, which take place in Malaysia in November, and ordered him to return to Cairo to await the association’s judgement.
Egyptian Sports Minister Taher Abou-Zeid referred the player as well as association officials for investigation on the grounds that the athlete’s action broke local and international regulations against introducing politics into sport.
"I want to stress that what I did came after the formal ceremony and the Egyptian national anthem, but anyway I am still proud of it," Youssef told Ahram Online by phone on Tuesday. He stressed the interview was his first official comment to the media since the incident.
The Egyptian kung fu association has since faced accusations of bias from Morsi supporters, who claim that if the player had displayed any other political sign he would not have facing such a fierce attack.
"I wore the Rabaa sign in solidarity with some of my friends and neighbours who died there. It was a message of loyalty to them and their families," explained the gold medallist.
"I don't belong to any political party and what I did wasn't the result of pressure from anyone. I am sad that the media is only concentrated on the incident, ignoring my previous and current achievements for the country,” he told Ahram.
"I don't regret what I did, but I want to apologise to the Egyptian association officials and my coach, if I’ve caused them any harm.
"I have a lot of confidence in the officials and I am ready for any punishment," he said.
Mohamed with the Egyptian Kung Fu Association president Sheirf Mostafa
Sherif Mostafa, president of the Egyptian kung fu association, told Ahram Online that the decision to suspend Youssef was not a result of his political allegiance.
"Everyone is free to express his political opinion, but [only] outside sport. The behaviour of Youssef contradicted the Olympic code of ethics and so there was an initial decision to suspend him," he said on Tuesday in a phone call from Malaysia.
"The decision is not related to politics at all. If Mohamed had held up a photo of Minister of Defence Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi he would have been punished also,” he said.
Mostafa said that Egypt was lucky to escape sanctions at the Russian event.
"Egypt was facing a punishment by the international federation, but we managed to convince them that it was an individual act and that the player will be punished appropriately.
"Youssef's behaviour spoiled our celebration with the gold medal, but nevertheless he will keep it, and he wasn't subjected to any investigations by the security authorities upon his arrival at Cairo airport," he said.
"His club informed the association today that they have officially decided to release him. The association board will hold a meeting after our return from the championship in Malaysia to make our final decision on the player," he said.
Mostafa told Ahram Online that the penalty faced by the gold medallist will not be very severe.
“He will be suspended for a while just to stop him repeating this incident and also to prove that we are not totally against him.”
Social media controversy
The incident has ignited considerable debate in Egypt, where tensions remain high between both supporters and opponents of the post-Morsi government.
"Youssef told me in Russia that he didn't think the matter would be exaggerated like that," said Mostafa.
"Last month, the Egyptian team claimed 23 gold medals in a championship in Madagascar and we didn’t get the same media attention,” he said.
Youssef reportedly received a warm welcome in his home town of Alexandria on Monday from Morsi supporters.
A photo of 10 kung fu players was shared across social media sites in Egypt on Tuesday showing them making the Rabaa sign amid reports that they support Youssef.
"This photo is not in support of Youssef. It was taken two months ago at a training session in their club, and we couldn't punish them as it didn’t happen at an official event," said Mostafa.
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