Squash Participant Mohamed el-Shorbagy’s Change to England Reveals Egypt’s Athlete Exodus


Egyptian squash participant Mohamed el-Shorbagy was referred to as a traitor and a sellout when he introduced this month he had joined the English nationwide workforce.

But the athlete will not be the primary Egyptian to compete below a international flag, with specialists saying the selection illustrates a pervasive drawback of athletes feeling underpaid and under-equipped.

“There’s solely soccer and some workforce sports activities” that garner assist, Hossam Hamed, former wrestler and coach of Egypt’s nationwide workforce, informed AFP.

Different athletes, notably these in particular person sports activities, need to cope with “out of date laws” and “minimal funds, even after medals and worldwide victories”.

He says Egyptian athletes becoming a member of different nationwide groups are “rebelling in opposition to a painful actuality”.

Explaining his alternative, el-Shorbagy mentioned, “England gave me all of the assist I wanted”, in distinction to his dwelling nation, the place “nobody paid him any thoughts” for years.

At present world quantity 3, the Alexandria native is one among Egypt’s most adorned squash gamers, spending 50 months because the world primary in a rustic that constantly dominates the game on a world stage. 5 of the world’s prime 10 males athletes are Egyptian, along with el-Shorbagy, in addition to the highest three girls athletes.

A manner out of poverty

However the champion is much from the primary to commerce within the Egyptian flag, with a historical past of athletes in weightlifting, wrestling, equestrian, boxing and handball doing the identical.

In 2018, after butting heads with the Egyptian Wrestling Federation, wrestler Mahmoud Fawzy joined workforce USA following a number of Arab and African gold medals.

On the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Fares Hassouna received one among Qatar’s first gold medals in weightlifting. After social media backlash in Egypt, his father set the file straight.

Ibrahim Hassouna, himself an Egyptian weightlifting champion and former coach of the nationwide workforce, defined that it was he who had left the nation after his personal conflict with the federation, and had educated his son in Qatar since he was a baby.

In each sports activities, says Fathi Zariq, former treasurer of the Weightlifting Federation, “athletes often come from poor households”.

In a rustic the place two-thirds of the inhabitants lives beneath or simply above the poverty line, sport could be a manner out.

Weightlifters and wrestlers who begin coaching in barebones youth centres in low-income neighbourhoods, Zariq defined, “look to international nationalities in pursuit of cash and higher social standing”.

“How can the reward for an Olympic gold medal be one million kilos ($54,000), after all of the years of coaching and preparation which have gone in?”

In Egypt, the place soccer reigns and Mohamed Salah wears the crown, different athletes are resentful. “In soccer, some gamers earn as much as one million {dollars} a yr, with out even having to win a contest,” Zariq derided.

After retirement

Handball has seen a uncommon reversal of the development, in response to Yasser Labib, former captain of the nationwide workforce and head of the handball workforce at Al-Ahly Membership, which along with its rival Zamalek dominate the African Champions League.

Within the Nineties, he defined, they had been haemorrhaging gamers, with Egyptian athletes taking part in everywhere in the world besides in Egypt.

“That is now not the case,” he informed AFP. “Salaries have elevated, contracts have turn out to be extra skilled, and gamers now not need one other nationality, however solely to play in European leagues,” whereas remaining on the Egyptian nationwide workforce.

The important thing, he informed AFP, is to place an finish to the parochial quarrels inside federations, and enhance funds devoted to athletes.

It’s a tall order for the Egyptian authorities, presently caught between double-digit inflation and a crippling devaluation.

In 2019-2020, solely $21.3 million was earmarked by the federal government for all sports activities federations in a rustic with a 103-million-strong inhabitants, in response to official figures. In distinction, the finances in a rustic like France clocks in at round a billion {dollars}.

However specialists say the answer can come from sponsors, although assist must be sustained. All too typically, Hamed says, sponsors see a participant as “only a product they’ll revenue off of for revenues or promoting, however as quickly as he’s injured, it’s throughout.”

Amir Wagih, former squash champion and nationwide workforce coach, thinks assist must proceed after athletes retire, together with by way of “job provides”.

Squash gamers, versus weightlifters and wrestlers, often hail from higher-income communities, educated in elite neighbourhood sporting golf equipment and leverage their victories into scholarship alternatives at top-tier American and European universities.

Wagih says it’s not cash these athletes are pursuing of their international careers, however alternatives for “a greater future after retirement” they might not have of their dwelling nation.

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