Ashraf Abu Zaid Mohammad Ammar
Ashraf Abu Zaid Mohammad Ammar Image Credit: Alaric Gomes/Gulf News

Dubai: Egypt’s Ashraf Abu Zaid Mohammad Ammar has suffered from polio for as long as he can remember. Now 45 years old, one of the stars in the Egyptian wheelchair basketball team is slowly realising that his childhood dream of playing at a Paralympic Games may come true next year in Tokyo.

Ammar developed polio in his left leg as a toddler. Confined to a wheelchair as he grew, he decided to face the challenges before him. Slowly, he decided to utilise his love of sports and basketball in particular to overcome his impediment by starting basketball training in his native town of Minya, situated around 250km south of Cairo.

“At first, we had nothing. We didn’t have facilities and neither did we have any tournaments to keep us interested in the sport. Gradually, things started changing and our club became the champion club of Egypt in wheelchair basketball,” Ammar told Gulf News at the Dubai Club for People of Determination in Al Ghusais.

A frequent visitor here, Ammar is presently in Dubai representing the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (Dewa) team at the wheelchair competition in the Seventh Nad Al Sheba (NAS) Ramadan Sports Tournament. Ammar knows he has to make use of every opportunity to keep in touch with the game to ensure he is in top form when the African round of qualifying is held for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games in January next year.

“From now on, all of us have to be sharp on court. As a team, we have improved in leaps and bounds, and I feel this is one of the best opportunities Egypt has to make it to a Paralympic Games. We have been playing as a side for the past few years now, and I have this gut feeling that we can make it to a Paralympic Games in Japan next year,” Ammar said.

For the record, Egypt has never sent a wheelchair basketball team to any Paralympic Games. The last time they competed at the IWBF World Championships was in 1998 in Sydney where they finished at the bottom of the standings from the 12 nations participating.

Egypt’s national basketball squad, on the other hand, have participated in the Summer Olympic Games on seven occasions with 12th places on two occasions — 1984 and 1988 Games — as their best results. Egypt has been a powerhouse at the FIBA Africa Championships while holding a record number of 16 medals in that competition.

“Things have changed now for wheelchair basketball, or at least we would like to believe things are different with the national association backing us with the facilities and a full-fledged national wheelchair basketball league. Everyone has shown a lot of improvement and that can only mean we can be competitive during the qualifying rounds and earn a place in Tokyo next year,” Ammar said.