DUBAI: Lebanon has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. The stepping down of Prime Minister Saad Hariri amid a severe economic crisis, protesters blocking the streets over longstanding grievances, women voicing their frustration over sexual harassment. The list goes on.
But amid all the chaos at home, miles away from its capital city Beirut, a university student made his country proud.
Malek Al-Zibawi went on to land a gold medal in the 33rd edition of the Kyokushin Karate Championship in Porto, Portugal.
The 21-year-old won the men’s +90-kg event with Yehya Omar, also from Lebanon, finishing third.
Al-Zibawi participated as part of the Lebanese delegation, which included participants from different universities.
The delegation won two golds, one silver and four bronze medals, and ranked sixth in the championship among more than 20 participating countries.
The road to gold was not easy for Al-Zibawi, though. “It’s very hard to train here since everywhere there are protests and roadblocks,” he told Arab News.
“I normally practice for two to three hours a day, but when there’s only a month for the tournament I start training for seven to eight hours daily.”
Al-Zibawi said kyokushin, a style of stand-up fighting, is unique for several reasons. “Whatever your age, whether 6 or 60, you can practice it. The sport is built on respect and discipline,” he added.
“It’s fought with bare hands and feet (no gloves and no protection). One can only punch the body, no punches to the head.”
Al-Zibawi said training is not only about putting in the hours, but about having the proper diet plan, and both are only possible if the surroundings are conducive.
He thus made the decision to leave his home a month before the Portugal tournament so he could train in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he could keep his focus on the tournament.
The move paid off, and he returned home with the gold and a cash prize of €200 ($221.70) from the federation, which he saved in order to fund his upcoming tournaments.
During the world kyokushin tournament in Japan, Al-Zibawi went up against a Russian fighter who won the bout by a split decision. He did not let the loss discourage him, though.
“I still feel I can win the world title in 2023,” he said. For this to happen, he said those in a position of power need to do more for the sport in his country, suggesting that they increase budgets to fund clubs and athletes who could “raise the Lebanese flag on the world stage.”
Al-Zibawi added: “They should have an independent system of supervision on federations, and apply rules which would encourage big companies and wealthy people to sponsor sports as sportsmen play a big role in the process of good community and country building.”
With karate techniques kata and kumite making their debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Al-Zibawi is hopeful that kyokushin too will become an Olympic sport.
With big hopes and much determination, he is confident that he and his country will achieve more glory in the years to come.