WITTEN, Germany – Syria’s champion boxer Nasser Al-Shami was halfway to qualifying for the London Olympics when he was injured by gunfire in the central city of Hama. Now he may never compete again.
Al-Shami, who won a bronze medal in Athens in 2004, was shot in the leg by a stray bullet last year while driving his brother’s wife to hospital as government troops began to close in, the charity that helped him get treatment said.
A public figure who took part in anti-government demonstrations, Al-Shami could not safely stay in the Hama hospital where authorities were looking for him.
“The situation in Syria is getting worse and worse,” Al-Shami said through an interpreter, from the bedside in the German hospital where he is being treated for his wounds.
“Children, old people and women are also being killed and bombed and many are injured,” he said. “I hope that more injured people can be brought to Germany.”
After a doctor in Hama performed a quick preliminary operation, the boxer hid in Syria for three months before crossing into Jordan, eventually reaching Germany in June to receive treatment.
The German-Syrian Union, which transports Syrians who have been badly injured in the conflict to receive medical treatment in Germany, arranged Al-Shami’s evacuation from Jordan.
“He was a wanted person for them,” said a German-Syrian Union spokesman, who asked not to be named because he has family in Syria.
The hospital in Witten, in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, is treating Al-Shami free of charge.
The shooting occurred last July as Syrian troops first attempted to seal off Hama and crush growing dissent. Clashes in the city have continued and at least 50 people died in streetfighting there earlier this month.
The heavyweight was halfway to qualifying for the Olympics and was preparing to travel to Los Angeles for trials when he was shot. He would have been competing this week. After four operations, Al-Shami’s leg is 4cm shorter than his uninjured one, and doctors say he is unlikely to box professionally again, the German-Syrian Union said.
Yet he remains determined to compete again at international level. “I believe that I can get a medal for the Syrians, especially for those who are fighting for their freedom,” said Al-Shami.
Syria sent 10 athletes to this year’s Games despite the turmoil at home. Syria’s only representative in the boxing ring, 26-year-old bantamweight Wessam Slamana, was beaten 15-7 by Kazakhstan’s Kanat Abutalipov on July 28.
Asked what he wanted to say to the people of Syria, Slamana said through a translator that he apologized because he had lost the first bout and that he had tried to win a medal. — Reuters