Against all odds, Egyptian champion Abdel Rahman Shaalan recently won the title of world champion in sumo wrestling despite suffering an injury to his knees which threatened his performance in the world championship held in Japan.
Shaalan also received the title of “ambassador of Egyptian tourism in Japan” and completed a documentary about Egyptian monuments, which will be screened in Japan this August.
Daily News Egypt had the pleasure of meeting Shalaan to discuss his sports career and the upcoming documentary.
When did you start wrestling?
I started the sport eight years ago when I was 16. I became a professional player once I turned 19.
Do you train on a daily basis?
Yes, I train daily for five hours, from 5am until 11am. I absolutely cannot miss training. As a sumo wrestler, I can only miss my daily training if I’m suffering from an injury that prevents me from practising safely.
Before you travelled to Japan, what victories did you achieve in the sport?
I won many championships as a member of the Egyptian team, including the National Championship and the World Junior Championship.
What was your latest victory?
My latest and most significant victory was winning the Professional Sumo League as I was the first Egyptian and Arab to do so.
This tournament was the greatest challenge I had faced as I was suffering from an injury in my knees, which threatened my participation in the tournament. I had to compete in 15 consecutive matches and could not lose more than seven of those matches.
Doctors warned me that this would have a long-term impact on my knees. Even so, I participated in the tournament in order not to risk losing my international ranking.
Despite these difficult circumstances, I managed to win 13 matches, losing only two. Thanks to my performance, I received the tournament’s title.
During the tournament, my family and friend’s support was the biggest motivation for me.
What do you mean by “risk losing my international ranking”?
Non-participation of sumo wrestlers in these championships impacts their international ranking.
What was the most important thing you discussed with President Al-Sisi?
My university studies in Egypt were an obstacle against me travelling to Japan. I asked the president to resolve this issue and he did.
Can you tell us more about your journey to Japan?
I first travelled to Japan four years ago. I was determined to succeed and become one of the top 40 sumo wrestlers internationally.
I received a title in Japan named the desert storm. I was selected as an honorary director for the police in a Japanese county, following which the Japanese press started to pay attention to me.
Did you practise any sport other than sumo?
Yes, I used to do judo, but I loved sumo more, so I preferred to concentrate on and specialise in the latter in order to become a champion.
You started organising a tour in Egypt. What are its goals?
I was involved in filming a documentary about monuments and historical sites in Egypt to show in Japan in August. The goal is to promote tourism to Egypt in Japan.
The channel that filmed the documentary is the biggest in Japan, with a 15 million-strong viewership. Every month it screens a documentary from a different country.
Although sumo is a Japanese sport, it actually has Egyptian origins. Pharaohs were the ones who first practiced the sport. In Bani-Hassan, Minya (a governorate in Upper Egypt), hieroglyphics and drawings on the walls of cemeteries show Ancient Egyptians practising sumo wrestling.
Who suggested the idea of making this documentary about Egypt?
In the first classes I took to become a professional player, I discovered a photo of Bani-Hassan temple. After that, I kept asking the International Sumo Federation to make a documentary about these cemeteries in Egypt and the origins of the sport.
Were there any obstacles in making the documentary?
Yes, I faced several obstacles that threatened the documentary’s completion. More than once, parts of the documentary were leaked to the point that we received an ultimatum from the federation saying that if this happens again, the documentary would be cancelled.
Additionally, shooting had to be cancelled several times due to overcrowding.
Tell us about your title ‘ambassador of Egyptian tourism in Japan’?
This title is a huge responsibility. Promoting tourism to Egypt in Japan is not an easy task. The plane trip alone can reach 13 hours. We also need to ameliorate Egypt’s reputation as some local and regional incidents have negatively impacted it.