The case of Ihab Abdelrahman’s failed doping test has taken a shocking turn as members of the Egyptian sporting community, along with the javelin thrower himself and Egyptian Athletics Federation president Walid Ata accusing the Egyptian National Olympic Committee (NOC) of framing him.
Abdelrahman, a silver medallist at last year’s World Championships in Beijing and a strong medal contender for Egypt in Rio next month, tested positive for testosterone in a test that was conducted three months ago by the local anti-doping organisation in Egypt (NADO). He is currently suspended and will miss the Rio Olympics if his ‘B’ sample also gives a positive result.
The announcement of the positive result of his ‘A’ sample was made on Sunday, just five days after Abdelrahman had publicly criticised the Egyptian NOC for refusing to allow his coach to travel with him to Rio and assigning a “problematic” coach – or athletics chef de mission – instead.
Ata, the athletics federation president, took to Facebook shortly after the news broke, hitting out at the NOC and accusing them of foul play.
“The world-class Ihab Abdelrahman, who has made Egyptian, Arab, African, and international history is CLEAN and is above any kind of suspicion,” Ata wrote.
“He has been tested, in and out of competition, more than 60 times and he never goes more than a month without getting blood-tested. Yet when he gets tested here, in Egypt, his test comes positive?
“You people are not getting your revenge against Walid Ata or Ihab Abdelrahman or the athletics family, but your malevolence, hate and envy has led to you to get your revenge against Egypt, and you assassinated the happiness of the people of an entire country that was only a few days away from happening.”
Egypt’s weightlifting champion Mohamed Ehab echoed Ata’s words, also blaming foul play on the NOC’s behalf, and alleging that he was on the receiving end of the same treatment four years ago ahead of London 2012.
A host of Egyptian sports stars took to social media supporting Ata’s claims.
Abdelrahman’s ‘B’ sample is being tested in Barcelona and he has requested to travel to Spain and see the handling of his sample himself.
Egyptian NOC president Hisham Hatab described the allegations against his organisation as “rubbish” and insists that there was no wrong-doing on their part.
“Of course we are very sad about this situation but what can we do? We are behind him and if there’s anything we can do to help him we won’t hesitate to do it. We hope that his ‘B’ sample is negative. If it’s positive then everyone has to bear responsibility for their mistakes,” Hatab told BBC Arabic.
Asked about the accusations of retaliation from the NOC, Hatab said: “It’s rubbish and has no legal or logical basis. First of all, the entity that takes the sample is a neutral entity, the Egyptian National Anti-Doping Organisation, that is an affiliate of an international organisation that is the World Anti-Doping Agency. Secondly, the substances that he takes and that gave positive results in his test, he signed on a paper admitting that he takes such substances, including food supplements and testosterone.
“If he or the federation have a complaint, then they should go and file a complaint to the International Olympic Committee, and the IAAF and WADA. I personally, as the head of the Egyptian NOC, find it in my best interest if he competes in Rio and gets a medal, he was a strong contender for a medal. So all logic says that we would work hard for a medal and not otherwise. And if people claim that we were involved in that, then let us know how we were involved in this.”
Hatab went on to slam the Egyptian Athletics Federation, adding: “The way the Egyptian Athletics Federation operates is flawed and their leadership is wrong and the proof is that their hammer thrower Hassan Abdelgawad was banned for two and half years for testing positive for testosterone.
“Their other athlete, Moustafa El Gamal, the hammer thrower has a leg injury and they haven’t been able to inform us for the past six months and they only informed us yesterday that he cannot travel. And their athlete, Ihab Abdelrahman now fails a doping test. So when you find three athletes that have issues, then the actual athletics organisation must be flawed and has poor management.”
When Saud Al Zaabi flew to Morocco four weeks ago for a high-altitude training camp in the city of Ifrane, his ambitions were relatively modest.
“I came to Morocco looking to set a new personal best and to think of a way to break the national record and to think of a way to make it onto the UAE national team,” the Emirati 800m specialist told Sport360.
Yet two weeks into his stay amidst the Atlas mountains, Al Zaabi found out he was going to achieve a dream far greater than anything he had ever imagined for himself – he was selected by the UAE Athletics Federation to go to the Olympic Games.
A last-minute decision saw the federation replace hammer thrower Mohamed Omar Al Khatib with middle distance runner Al Zaabi in the Olympic roster headed for Rio and the 27-year-old still cannot believe it.
“I was sleeping, when my coach woke me up and told me I’m going to the Olympics I thought he was pulling some sort of prank on me,” admits the Abu Dhabi Police employee.
“I’ve never contested a GCC championship, I’ve never contested an Arab championship, I’ve never contested an Asian championship, I’ve never contested a world championship, and now suddenly I’m going to the Olympics?
“I thought I was still sleeping when he told me. And until today I still can’t believe it. I keep asking my coach every day ‘are you sure I’m going?’
“Any person dreams of the Olympics, you don’t even dream of going, you just dream, dream. You dream of representing your country and I’m honoured to now be one of the people who will fly the flag for the UAE at the Olympics.
“Just going and sitting in the stands, that would be a dream, so imagine competing there.”
Al Zaabi’s track and field resume is mostly restricted to participating in police competitions. He has never represented the UAE in any non-police-related regional or international event but has somehow hit the Olympic jackpot is going to Rio.
With two Emiratis already qualified for the Olympics in athletics – Alia Saeed and Betlhem Belayneh – the country gets the privilege of an extra slot via wildcard. That invite was initially going to Al Khatib but the IAAF and IOC informed the UAE Athletics Federation that the hammer throw event is overcrowded and they preferred if a 1,500m runner would be entered instead, which is how Al Zaabi was thrown into the mix.
His coach Othmane El Chaibi accompanying him in the training camp knows Moroccan track legend Said Aouita, who was hired by the UAE National Olympic Committee last month as a technical expert.
Now that Al Zaabi is going to the Games, former Olympic champion Aouita is actually supervising his training and consulting with El Chaibi.
“Said Aouita and Hicham El Guerrouj are my idols. I always watch their videos online. They are unmatchable champions,” gushes Al Zaabi.
“I look at their videos and I see people who work with so much heart to achieve their dreams. So when you see that, it motivates you to do the same and try and follow in their footsteps. And now, somehow, Said Aouita is supervising my training, that is an unbelievable development.”
Al Zaabi says running for him is “hereditary”. His entire family runs, “from the youngest to the eldest”, but he is the only one who hung on to the sport and took a competitive interest in it.
“I started when I was a teenager, taking part in school races when I was 17,” he says.
“When I joined the police, I took part in races as part of my job and we had a couple of international police competitions in Saudi Arabia and the World Police Championship in Cyprus.
“I participated in a marathon in Hungary, also a police event. I improved with every competition and started posting some good timings. There’s an Arabic saying ‘for every hardworker there is a reward’, and that’s what happened with me.
“In Abu Dhabi, my job in the police is basically sport. There is a department in Abu Dhabi Police dedicated to sport, and I’m part of that.
“I’ve been the best athlete at Abu Dhabi Police for the past three years, mainly thanks to the support of General Mohammed Khalfan Al Rumaithi.
“He always encouraged me and he always dreamt that one of our team would reach the highest of heights.”
Although accustomed to competing over two laps, Al Zaabi is not worried about making the step up to the 1,500m for the Olympics.
“I’m an 800m runner but for my country, I can run any event it doesn’t matter. I have no problem running the 1,500m as long as I’m raising my country’s flag,” he insists.
He has made some tweaks to his training regimen, to work on the longer distance, and is confident he’ll be ready to compete.
Al Zaabi is aware the Olympics will be a huge step up for him but he sounds unfazed by the prospect of competing on world sport’s greatest stage.
He believes it will instill confidence in him and he’s already planning on building on his upcoming experience to advance his career.
“After Rio hopefully you’ll see me in the GCC, Arab and Asian championships. I will give my utmost to reach the top and fly my country’s flag high,” he says.
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