An Egyptian wrestler who was granted the Bulgarian citizenship touched off a social media storm after winning a gold medal for his adopted country at a prestigious European championship.
Right after news emerged of Greco-Roman wrestler Tarek Abdel-Salam clinching gold at the European Senior Championships in Serbia on Sunday, many Egyptians took to the social media to accuse authorities of wasting a talent.
Abdel-Salam defeated Russia's Chingiz Labazanov in the final of the men's 75kg event, waving Bulgaria's flag in ecstasy after a remarkable win that came only a few months after he became a naturalized Bulgarian citizen.
He said he originally went to Bulgaria to work in a kebab shop after abandoning wrestling, given the neglect he faced back home after suffering a neck injury in 2015.
"I've tried for six months to convince the Egyptian wrestling federation to pay for my treatment, but to no avail. They said any surgery would end my career," Abdel-Salam told Egyptian television channel DMC.
"I had to pay for the treatment myself. Nobody cared and nobody helped me, so I felt there is no use in what I'm doing. I decided to retire and go and work in Bulgaria."
He was then spotted by Bulgarian wrestling officials and was eventually granted citizenship, repaying the country's faith with a stunning performance in his first major competition.
Back in Egypt, many believe Abdel-Salam had the potential to emulate Karam Gaber, Egypt's best-ever Greco-Roman wrestler who won three Olympic medals - gold, silver and bronze.
"We lost a great talent. Imagine how many Tarek Abdel-Salams exist in this country?" said one Twitter user.
Egyptian Wrestling Federation hits back
The Egyptian Wrestling Federation hit back at Abdel-Salam, saying all the expenses of his treatment were paid by the federation.
Sports minister Khaled Abdel-Aziz also told reporters on Tuesday that Abdel-Salam was actually fit when we went to Bulgaria upon an invitation to take part in a training camp, with local media publishing copies of the cheques the federation used to pay for the wrestler's treatment.
Sports other than football have long suffered from marginalization by Egyptian authorities, who vowed to invest more in any promising athletes.
Egypt won three bronze medals at the Rio Olympic Games last summer - two in weightlifting and one in Taekwondo. The country's best outcome since the 1940s was in the 2004 Games in Athens, winning a total of five medals including a gold for Karam Gaber.
"The moment I won, I wished I raised the Egyptian flag," Abdel-Salam said in a somber tone.
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