Egyptian swimmer Abdelrahman Sameh says he has “been getting death threats” for showing solidarity with the people of Palestine, adding he could not celebrate his gold medal at the World Aquatics Swimming World Cup 2023 as war rages on in Gaza.
Sameh – also known as Abdelrahman Elaraby – won the men’s 50-metre butterfly final at the tournament held in Greece last week, but said on Sunday it was difficult for him to celebrate it after a “mentally tough week”.
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“I have been getting death threats – people have been attacking me all week for supporting Palestine,” he said when asked to speak about his win.
“My family goes to sleep, not knowing if someone is going to break into my room, if somebody is going to break into my apartment. They have to wonder every time I don’t pick up a call, ‘Is he busy or is someone trying to kill him?’”
Abdelrahman Sameh, Egyptian swimmer who just earned a gold medal at the World Cup using his platform and this crucial moment of his career to speak up for Palestinians.
Utterly proud. pic.twitter.com/M1q52an53z
— Stephanie Amin (@MaaTiti6) October 16, 2023
‘My brothers and sisters are being killed in Palestine’
The 23-year-old Egyptian is part of the University of Notre Dame’s swimming and diving team in Indiana, United States.
He beat favourites Isaac Cooper of Australia and Michael Andrew of the US to win his first-ever gold medal at the World Cup but refused to celebrate it.
“My brothers and sisters are being killed in Palestine, and I’m threatened with death just because it’s a cause I’m standing for.”
The medal win came five days after Sameh posted a message on his Instagram account, saying critics had accused him of “supporting terrorism” because he had spoken against Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
“I want to emphasise that my support for the Palestinian cause is rooted in a belief in the value of all human lives,” he said.
Sameh has been posting news and images from the war in Gaza in an act of solidarity with the people of the besieged Strip – an act that has not gone down well with Israeli swimming officials.
One of his earlier social media posts included a political cartoon that showed the different perceptions of resistance by Palestinians and Ukrainians, according to a report on the swimming website SwimSwam.
On Friday, Israel Swimming Association Chairman Miki Halika wrote to World Aquatics – swimming’s global governing body – urging it to “take action against swimmers who support terrorism”.
“It is disheartening to see extremist ideologies tarnishing the reputation of our beloved sport,” Halika wrote in his complaint.
Sameh competed in the 50m final two days later and won it.
However, some users on X, earlier known as Twitter, noted that the Egyptian was missing or cropped out from the image showing the final list of winners that was posted on the World Aquatics account, leading them to start the trend “#WeStandWithAbdelrahmanSameh”.
Some users asked the world body “where’s Sameh” and others slammed it for allegedly cropping him out.
— مهدي🇵🇸 (@Mahdy_45) October 16, 2023
Meanwhile, Tunisia’s Olympic swimming champion Ahmed Hafnaoui has also been at the receiving end of threats and was one of the swimmers whom Halika targeted in his letter.
Hafnaoui, who won the 400m freestyle gold at Tokyo 2020, has posted a link to a fundraiser collecting aid for the people in Palestine who are affected by the war.
He was targeted by American swimmer Eli Cohen, who told Hafnaoui he was asking people to “donate to terror”.
The Tunisian has been a consistent supporter of the Palestinian cause.
After winning gold in Tokyo, the 20-year-old dedicated his medal to his country, but also famously added: “May Allah bless the Palestinian people. Amen!”
‘Incredibly important to Palestinian people’
Last week, fans of Scotland’s Celtic Football Club pledged to continue their display of solidarity with the people of Palestine despite backlash from the club’s board and a former player.
These acts of solidarity by athletes, teams and fans are “incredibly important to the Palestinian people, who are being bombarded and targeted”, said Abdullah al-Arian, associate professor of history at Georgetown University in Qatar.
Al-Arian told Al Jazeera last week that it was “becoming increasingly hard” to show support for the Palestinians in Western countries because some governments in Europe have banned protests against the Israeli attacks in Gaza and have threatened to bar the display of the Palestinian flag.
“Especially as we see the posture of the media and government as being one silencing and intimidation of people who are simply standing up for human rights of the people of Palestine.”
At least 2,808 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli air raids as the conflict between Israel and Gaza enters its 11th day.
The number of Israelis killed in Hamas’s attack and military operation stands at about 1,400, including 286 soldiers.