CAIRO: The former Egyptian judo champion Mohamed Ali Rashwan is one of the world’s most famous athletes, having represented both Egypt and all Arabs on the global stage.
For his achievements in the sport, Rashwan is to receive the Sunshine Award from the Emperor of Japan Naruhito this month during a grand ceremony.
“Japan believes I am the reason for both the spread of judo in Egypt and the strengthening of Egypt-Japan relations in sports,” Rashwan said in an exclusive interview with Arab News.
“Any player must have honorable morals and sportsmanship. Up to now, Japan has not forgotten what I did with my rivals.”
Rashwan was referring to his loss in the finals of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics to Japanese athlete Yasuhiro Yamashita, who was injured.
Rashwan had won all his preliminary matches and qualified for the final against Yamashita, the then world champion.
“I knew he picked up a leg injury during the preliminary rounds of the tournament and that he was weakened. But I did not want people to one day say that I won because Yamashita was injured. I just could not accept it for myself.
“At that time, I tended to attack on both sides, left and right, but while standing on the mat for the final, I simply could not attack the injured leg of my opponent with force. We went on ‘ne-waza’ (ground work). He immobilized me and won the Olympic title.
“The Japanese people welcomed me with all their love and appreciation, and I gave my love and respect to them in return.
“I got married to a Japanese woman and had three children.”
The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization issued a statement praising Rashwan’s sportsmanship and rewarded him with its Sport Spirit medal.
He was also awarded the Fair Play Award in 1985 and the World’s Best Athlete Award from the International Olympic Committee in France.
In Egypt, he was honored by former President Hosni Mubarak and received the Republic Award twice.
Rashwan was born in Alexandria, Egypt’s second-biggest city. His first love was basketball. He began playing judo after he watched a friend training for it. He won the Alexandria Under-18 Championship just six months after he started training.
In 1975, Rashwan went to then-Czechoslovakia to participate in his first international competition abroad. That same year, he also played in a tournament in Spain.
In 1980, Rashwan won the bronze medal at the World Military Championships in Colorado. In 1982, he won two gold medals in the heavyweight division, which he retained in the next tournament in 1983.
Rashwan won the silver medal in the over 95kg category at the 11th Mediterranean Games in Athens.
Altogether, Rashwan has collected 31 medals including 13 golds at the Open World Championship.
He said that judo has spread in Egypt, but hopes that its clubs in several regions improve.
“Unfortunately, the media highlights some sports and ignores others,” Rashwan said.
“I suggest that the media in Egypt focuses on judo.”