An Egyptian wrestler won gold for Bulgaria after being cast aside as "ineffective" by the Egyptian Wrestling Federation.
Tarek Abdel Salam beat Russia’s champion Chingiz Labazanov in the finals of the European Championship on Sunday, claiming gold in the under 75 kg category.
The 23-year-old was competing on behalf a Bulgaria, the nation that offered him citizenship after he was abandoned by Egypt's wrestling organization.
Although Salam formerly wrestled for his home country, he was injured and Egypt's federation refused to pay for his treatment. They apparently did not see him as a valuable player.
This forced Salam to seek treatment abroad at his own expense. After traveling to Bulgaria, he found work at a shawarma restaurant that helped him to cover the cost of his treatment.
Then Bulgarian officials learned of Salam's story and offered him citizenship and payment for his treatment. In return, he would compete on behalf of Bulgaria. Of course, Salam accepted the generous offer.
"We have neglected Tarek and ignored his treatment, and we cannot hold the player accountable for getting the Bulgarian citizenship and playing for the Bulgarian team," Ibrahim Adel, a member of the Egyptian wrestling federation, told Al-Arabiya.
"We failed to support his talent and neglected his treatment. We pushed him towards those who cared for him and his talent," he said.
Shawky Omran, acting executive manager of the Egyptian federation, said his organization is seeking payment or repatriation of Salam from Bulgaria.
"The BWF is responsible for either returning Tarek Abdel Salam to the EWF, or paying the stipulated fine of 100,000 Swiss Francs," Omran said, according to Mada Masr.
For his part, Salam still feels national pride in his home country, saying he wished he could have won the prize for Egypt.
"The moment I won, I wished I raised the Egyptian flag," Salam said, according to BBC.
He puts the blame on the Egyptian federation for causing him to leave.
"The president of the Egyptian Wrestling Federation said that I am a failure and ineffective," he said. "However the best response in my favor was when I found those appreciating my talent, and standing on the podium surpassing the world’s champions."
Salam previously won gold for Egypt – along with numerous other medals – before his injury. He came in first at the African Games Championship, but nonetheless, the Egyptian federation didn't see his value.