Karate athlete bags gold for Lebanon

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Malek Al-Zibawi (third from left) celebrates his gold medal on the podium. (Photo Supplied)
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Malek Al-Zibawi (right) an opponent during the Kyokushin Karate Championship in Porto, Portugal.
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Updated 12 December 2019

Karate athlete bags gold for Lebanon

  • The 21-year-old won the men’s +90-kg event

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.

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

Updated 07 July 2020

Leeds face test of nerve as promotion looms

  • Marcelo Bielsa’s side look odds-on to secure the place among English football’s elite

LONDON: After 16 years in the wilderness, Leeds United are on the brink of an eagerly awaited return to the Premier League — as long as they can hold their nerve with the finish line in sight.

A 3-1 win at Blackburn on Saturday moved Leeds a step closer to the promised land from the long purgatory of the lower leagues.

Marcelo Bielsa's side sit one point clear at the top of the Championship heading into their last five matches.

With third-placed Brentford six points behind, Leeds look odds-on to secure the place among English football's elite that their legion of fanatical fans used to regard as their birthright.

But Leeds were in a similar position last season and squandered a chance for automatic promotion before imploding in the playoffs.

When Leeds beat Sheffield Wednesday on April 13, 2019, a capacity crowd at Elland Road serenaded their jubilant team as if promotion had been secured.

Just 15 days later, after losses to Wigan and Brentford and a mad-cap draw against Villa — in which Bielsa told his team to deliberately let their opponents score following United's controversial opener — ended the Leeds top two challenge.

Leeds lost their nerve and Derby took full advantage in the playoff semifinal second leg, winning 4-2 to leave the Elland Road faithful in tears.

From the ashes of that bitter evening, Bielsa has dragged Leeds back into promotion contention.

But, with last season's collapse in mind, Leeds fans might have been alarmed to hear Bielsa admit he is feeling the strain of the run-in.

"Yes," Bielsa said when asked if he felt anxious during the Blackburn game.

"Every match in this period is very important. If we get distracted we will pay for that so we need to keep focused in every match."

With English football being played behind closed doors for the rest of the season amid the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps Leeds will benefit from playing in silence, rather than in front of their anxious fans.

"I'd love to be there more than anything. But it's such a nervous time and I do think that could impact the players," Leeds season-ticket holder Simon Sanders told AFP.

"Nothing feels quite right with this virus and the way the world has changed but if we make it the party will go on for weeks."

Three of Leeds' remaining games will be played in the empty stands of Elland Road against struggling trio Stoke, Barnsley and Charlton.

Win those games and taken a point from one of their two away games at Swansea and Derby and Leeds will be assured of promotion.

It would be a moment to savor after such a long period in the shadows.

Champions of England in 1969 and 1974 under Don Revie, then in 1992 when Howard Wilkinson called the shots, Leeds have a rich history.

But since being relegated from the top tier in 2004, Leeds have stumbled from financial disaster off the pitch to despair on it.

Describing the club's ascent to the heady heights of the Champions League in the early 2000s, former chairman Peter Ridsdale claimed he had "lived the dream."

Their subsequent fall was a never-ending nightmare that hit its lowest ebb in 2007 when Leeds went into administration and were relegated to the third tier for the first time.

No wonder the much-travelled Bielsa is so beloved after just two years in charge.

The former Argentina, Lazio, Marseille and Bilbao boss has turned the tide at a tortured club infamously labelled the 'Damned United' by novelist David Peace and forever remembered as 'Dirty Leeds' in the minds of fans who saw their no-holds-barred style in the Revie era.

Now Leeds' Italian owner Andrea Radrizzani is embracing that checkered past in a bid to secure promotion at last.

"For Leeds, we have a history of being 'Dirty Leeds' and we actually channel that," Radrizzani told FIFA's Professional Football Journal.

"All of our boys are willing to fight for the shirt every week and having that character is important to being a Leeds player.

"I want to help Leeds return to the level our history and fans deserve."