JAKARTA: A Palestinian weightlifter wept as he belatedly learned of his young sister’s tragic death from illness — a day after he competed in the Asian Games.
Hani al-Qassas’s family and team kept the news from him until after his appearance at the Games, the first international competition he had permission to attend.
His five-year-old sister, who had fallen into a coma, died in Gaza three days before he was due to take his turn in the 77kg class.
“They did not tell me until a day after my participation,” a tearful Qassas told AFP.
His coach Hossam Hamada, crying too, said he was the first to find out.
“The news had a big impact on me because I had a similar situation with my sister,” said Hamada, who also comes from Gaza, where medical facilities are generally poor.
“I tried to hide the news from Hani, as far as I could.”
But Qassas, 23, realised something was going on. “Their behaviour with me was unnatural. I told them ‘What is happening? Tell me!’,” he said.
It was the first time that Qassas had left the Gaza Strip to take part in a championship.
In 2017 he was invited to compete in the Islamic Solidarity Games in Baku, but the Israeli authorities denied him permission.
“We were always tormented by travel, and we were always expecting to turn back because of the permits,” Qassas said, explaining it took 15 hours just to make it to Amman, where he boarded the plane to Indonesia.
His cousin Ahmed Al-Qassas, an 85kg-class weightlifter, made the same arduous journey to get to the Games.
The two men said they were afraid war would break out in the Gaza Strip, preventing them from attending the regional Olympics.
“Our exit from Gaza is an achievement, in previous competitions we did not even bother trying because we knew we could not exit,” Ahmed Al-Qassas, 21, told AFP at the athletes’ village.
In Gaza, the athletes suffer from a lack of financial support and facilities.
“We train in a gymnasium for the Palestine club. There is nothing, it’s like a ruin,” Ahmed said.
“Many in Gaza ask us why we play the game in these circumstances and without material gain, but we are like poets who write for nothing.” -AFP