Adam Elzoghby poses for a photo in USA Team Handball gear.
Disclaimer: Since this article has been posted, the United States has with withdrawn from the 2021 Men's Team Handball World Championship due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
As a a sports management professional working in Cairo, Adam Elzoghby was serving on a planning committee for the 2021 men’s team handball world championship to be held there when he told his director he might need to step down from his position.
As it turned, Elzoghby had an opportunity to play in the tournament with Team USA, for whom he is one of the longest-tenured members.
“I worked at it for like two months, planning for some marketing activities, and then I had to stop,” Elzoghby told TeamUSA.org from Cairo.
One way or another, Elzoghby was going to take part in the IHF Men’s World Championship, which run from Jan. 13-31 in his native Egypt.
Born in New York and raised in Egypt, Elzoghby, 34, will be in a unique position when the U.S. competes in its first world handball championships since 2001. He’ll take the court for the Americans, as he has done since joining the national team in 2010. However, the games will be played at an arena close to his home near downtown Cairo.
It’s not necessarily a homecoming for Elzoghby since he has continued to live in Egypt while playing for a U.S. team that has a roster filled with dual citizens from across the globe.
“A lot of people want to come and watch. They’re asking me about the tickets, asking me if it will be streamed or not,” he said. “So USA will have some good times at the games.”
Before joining the U.S. handball team, Elzoghby played for the Egyptian national team like his mother. He was captain of Egypt’s junior national team before spending three years on the senior national team from 2005-08.
Elzoghby said he was in position to play in the 2007 IHF Men’s World Championship at age 20, but Egypt’s coach at the time decided to rely on his older players for the tournament.
“So here I am 14 years later, 15 years later, and I’m able to go,” Elzoghby said of getting to finally compete in the world championships.
Elzoghby has never lived in the U.S. as an adult, but he’s eligible to play on the U.S. handball team because he’s a dual citizen. Elzoghby’s parents moved from Kuwait to New York, where his uncle was living in the 1980s. Less than a year after Elzoghby was born in Brooklyn, his parents decided to return to Egypt because his mother didn’t feel comfortable in New York.
“I was lucky enough to get the (American) passport,” he joked.
Growing up in Egypt, Elzoghby heard his mother’s stories about her time playing on the Egyptian women’s handball team. She tried to get him to play at age 6, but he wasn’t interested in the sport at first.
“She had a passion for handball. She wasn’t pushing me that much, but she was absolutely pushing me not to play soccer,” Elzoghby said. “I wasn’t bad at (soccer), but she knows it’s a corrupted system in Egypt. She was like, ‘Don’t go for it. It won’t suit you.’”
Elzoghby started playing handball at age 8. He initially wanted to be a goalie, but once coaches learned he was a lefty, which is rare in the sport, they told him he had to play with the ball in his hand.
He quickly fell in love with handball.
“It just had everything I like and add to it the contact part,” Elzoghby said. “So I don’t know. It’s in my blood.”
Elzoghby decided to quit the Egyptian national team before the Olympic Games 2008 Beijing. He said it was a difficult decision, but he was ready to start his career outside of handball.
Elzoghby said he also didn’t like how he was treated after suffering an injury while playing for the Egyptian national team. Soon afterward, he learned about a way that he could play for the U.S.
“After the Olympics, I don’t know, I think I was Googling the internet and I found out that the USA team is making a team for the 2012 Olympics in London,” Elzoghby said. “So they were seeking anybody who had dual citizenship.
“So I was like, ‘OK. Why not? I don’t think I’ll need to go for more than a couple weeks a year, so I could still play with my (professional handball) club. I could work, and I can also be with them. Let’s give it a shot.’”
Though the U.S. didn’t qualify for those London Games, Elzoghby found a new home on the team. Progress has been gradual, however. The Americans missed out on the Rio Games, too, extending the drought since their last Olympic berth in 1996 to two decades.
When Egypt was awarded the right to host this year’s world championships, Elzoghby admitted he wasn’t sure the U.S. team would qualify for it.
With his background in sports management, Elzoghby turned his attention to helping Egypt promote the tournament. He was on the committee that worked on designing the logo for the world championships.
His plans changed, however, after the coronavirus pandemic forced a qualification tournament that the U.S. was scheduled to compete in to be cancelled last year.
The International Handball Federation ended up selecting the Americans to represent North America and the Caribbean in the world championships. It marked only the seventh time that the U.S. men’s handball team had earned a berth to the world championship since 1964.
Despite living in Egypt, Elzoghby said his family will be cheering for him and the Americans in the world championships. His oldest son is especially looking forward to it.
“He’s been playing handball for a few months now, so he’s starting to love the sport and he’s pretty excited to watch me play,” Elzoghby said.