Ali is 27 years old. He is not an unknown on the world circuit, even if the war in his country has upset not only his life, but also his preparation for the World Championships. When he started judo at the age of five, Yemen was still at peace. It was his older brother who dragged him onto the tatami and from the first judo session, Ali fell in love with the sport. Gradually the young man perfected himself. He joined the cadet national team then the juniors before entering the Yemen senior squad. Logically the first results arrived, Ali becoming East-Asian Champion and getting two bronze medals at the juniors at continental level.
But Ali's life rocked in 2011, when he was seriously wounded by gunshots during a street demonstration. Operated in Jordan, he returned, despite everything, to his best level and competed in the 2012 London Olympics.
Today, Yemen lives under bombs. Yet Ali and his friends continue to train as much as possible: "The situation is very complicated in my country. It's been four years since we live in fear. We only have a small dojo at our disposal because the others were destroyed. We are about fifty competitors divided between cadets, juniors and seniors who try to regroup as often as possible. In addition to this group, there are about 150 young judoka who regularly do judo."
Since becoming a name in the world of judo, Ali has become an icon for many young people who would like to imitate him and if he continues to dream of a new Olympic qualification in Tokyo in 2020, he is also very proud of his work with children, who's living conditions are harder than we can imagine. From his competition in Baku in 2018, he draws important lessons: "Obviously I would have liked to go further in the competition, but winning one match here is very important for me obviously, but also for all the children at home who could follow my tournament on Internet. This is a good example for them. Everyone in Yemen loves judo. It could really become a very popular sport. You know Judo is everything for me and I can say that it has saved my life many times already."
In all those years in which Ali has not only walked the tatami in Yemen, but also all over the world, he has learned to share and open up to others: "I remember, when I was ten years old, I had the great chance to go to France as part of a sports exchange. I ended up in Levallois in the Paris region. It was amazing to be able to share with other judoka. Here in Baku, I found many friends of the international circuit. It's fantastic. Because of the war in my country, I can not travel so easily. But with the support of the IJF, we have been able to come here. Beyond the competition itself, which is important, is the exchange between all countries."
The least that can be said is that Ali is well known. When accompanying him behind the scenes of the judo arena, you realize by counting the number of times he stops to greet someone. The smile that illuminates his face is frank and natural but it is misleading because the situation in Yemen for four years has only worsened: "A few years ago, we had dojo in several cities in the country. But today, there is almost nothing, only dust," says Ali. His friend Ahmed Ayash, 24 years old and a 73kg athlete, also present in Baku, now lives in Sanaa, the capital, because the gym in which he used to practice his favorite sport was reduced to ashes. Ali explains that the conditions are really bad and that there is almost no transport and even the food is missing, yet he still believes and fights day by day to bring some comfort to the youngest: "We try to organize judo sessions and demonstrations for the children, to show them how useful sport is, if not necessary. We make them laugh and play to teach them essential values and especially to try to explain to them that war is not inevitable. I dream of a world where no one is plunged into terrorism. I am convinced that judo can be a vector of peace."
What is certain is that Ali keeps his spirits up and for that he deserves the admiration of all. He is already looking ahead, beyond Tokyo in 2020, and will see himself as the forerunner of a new generation of talented judoka who could, why not, join the peaks of the world of sport: "It is obvious that what is happening in Yemen right now is terrible, but I know that someday this war will stop. We will have to rebuild everything and I intend to use judo for that. To get there, there is no choice but to bet on young people."
Often when someone says they want peace in the world, it sounds a bit naive, but there is no doubt that in Ali's mouth, it's a different story: "I want peace, we need peace in Yemen, as well as in the world and especially between all religions. We need everything, judogi for children for example, but we especially need peace. So when I hear about Judo for Peace, I can only subscribe to the fullest."
Ali and his friend Ahmed left, smiling on the lip, images full of the head and the heart pumped up. To wish him good luck seems very derisory, but nevertheless this is that he needs because his fight does not take place only on the tatami, but it is a real fight for life.