Armenian-French wrestler abandons Olympic dream over security concerns. SNJOYAN'S FACEBOOK PAGE

Armenian-born French wrestler Gagik Snjoyan has abandoned his Olympic dream over security fears by refusing to take part in the European wrestling qualifiers in Azerbaijan, reports AFP.

Armenia and Azerbaijan still don't have a recognised border, having fought several wars over the past 30 years. Athletes from each country rarely take part in tournaments held in the other's country. Snjoyan was France's number one wrestler in the 67 kg Greco-Roman category and was due to compete in the European qualifiers in Baku on 5-7 April, but was dissuaded from travelling by his family, who feared for his safety. 

"Any Armenian who enters Azerbaijani territory risks not coming back. It's not me who says that, it's life that has shown that," the 22-year-old told AFP. "Honestly, it's understandable. If you've been following the tensions between Armenia and Azerbaijan lately, it's really complicated. No Armenian goes to Azerbaijan and vice versa," he stressed.

Snjoyan won silver at the 2024 Zagreb Open ranking tournament. GETTY IMAGES
Snjoyan won silver at the 2024 Zagreb Open ranking tournament. GETTY IMAGES

After Baku recaptured the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September last year, the entire ethnic Armenian population of the enclave, more than 100,000 people, fled to Armenia. Born in Yerevan in 2001, Snjoyan began his wrestling career in his native country before his family sought asylum in France a decade ago.

Despite being offered increased security by the French Wrestling Federation, Snjoyan said he had been forced to make the "most difficult" decision of his career. I have never been in a situation like this before. I don't think it happens to me, it happens to others. And when it happens to us, it's not easy to deal with, to be honest," he said. 

"On the one hand you have your family and on the other hand you have your dream and your sweat that has been flowing for decades. I decided to put my family first," added Snjoyan.

Mamadassu Sylla celebrates his victory at the 2024 European Qualifiers. GETTY IMAGES
Mamadassu Sylla celebrates his victory at the 2024 European Qualifiers. GETTY IMAGES

He was replaced by French N2 Mamadassa Sylla, who won the Olympic quota on the first day of qualifying on 5 April. "I didn't have the right to show what I was capable of," remarked Snjoyan, who also missed the 2023 World Championships with a shoulder injury.

"It is the sport that my father did, that my whole family did, including my uncles and cousins. I was immersed in it, it was certain, it was my destiny," he lamented. The biggest problem was to understand why the International Wrestling Federation did not choose to hold the event in a paceful country", Snjoyan concluded.

The Armenian national wrestling team also refused to take part in the European qualifiers in Baku for security reasons. Nevertheless, two wrestlers of Armenian origin travelled to Baku. Yerevan-born Gevorg Sahakyan, who represented Poland, competed in the Greco-Roman -67 kg category and came close to earning an Olympic quota, but ironically lost to Sylla in the deciding bout. The other wrestler of Armenian origin, Erik Arushanyan from Ukraine, will be competing in the 65kg freestyle wrestling category on Sunday.

In addition to Sylla, eight other nations and two Individual Neutral Athletes from Russia qualified for the Olympic Games on the first day of the European Qualifiers, when the Greco-Roman wrestlers took to the stage. Enes Basar (Turkey) and Victor Ciobanu (Moldova) qualified in the 60 kg category, while Sylla (France) and Parviz Nasibov (Ukraine) reached the final of the 67kg category.

Jonni Sarkkinen (Finland) surprisingly knocked out Hungary's Zoltan Levai to secure a place in the 77 kg quota alongside Turkey's Burhan Akbudak. Russia's Milad Alirzaev and former Russian Aleksandr Komarov (Serbia) booked their places in the 87 kg category. 

Mindaugas Venckaitis (Lithuania) and Roberti Kobliashvili (Georgia) will compete in the final of the 97 kg category with Olympic licences, while European champion Sergey Semenov (Individual Neutral Athlete) and Germany's Jello Krahmer will fight in the 130 kg category. The wrestlers who reach the finals will automatically qualify for the Olympic Games.