Two-time Paralympian Safet Alibasic was vital to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sitting volleyball success in 2014 and is now hoping his side can retain their European crown in 2015.
Leaving victorious at the World ParaVolley Sitting Volleyball World Championships in Elblag, Poland, the London 2012 champions are celebrating the culmination of a triumphant year.
Despite injuries in the team and personal stress caused by the devastating flooding in Bosnia in May 2014, the team secured the world title with a stunning three sets to one victory over Rio 2016 hosts Brazil.
Receiving personal congratulations from Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Chairman Bakir Izetbegovic, who named them his ‘golden boys’, the team’s success has been celebrated at home and abroad.
After losing out to Iran in the gold medal match in 2010, the Bosnian team expected Iran to be the ones to beat in the Championships. Alibasic even confessed of some pre-competition nerves.
“There was a certain dose of fear and nervousness. We always hope and expect to win, but sometimes I feel a dose of trepidation that I'm not going to play well,” he said. “It all goes away when I take the ball in my hands and start playing.”
However, Brazil overcame Iran 3-2 in the semi-finals, ready to take on Bosnia. Looking back at the final, Alibasic admits surprise at Brazil’s tenacity.
“At first, we didn't consider Brazil as a serious opponent who could take a gold medal,” he said. “We entered the final relaxed because we thought it would be easy, but it certainly wasn't. The match was very difficult but we eventually managed to take the gold medal.
“Obviously they did their homework and had trained enough to defeat Iran.”
Having been named Most Valuable Player after the Championships, Safet Alibasic was then voted Allianz Athlete of the Month for June with an overwhelming 62 per cent of the vote. Beating out Australia’s wheelchair rugby star Ryley Batt and Japan’s wheelchair tennis player Yui Kamiji amongst others, the award had a special meaning for Alibasic.
“International awards are especially important because sports for people with disabilities are not valued enough in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This is another reason why this award means me a lot.
“The feeling is great. Each award gives me an extra incentive to continue with my efforts.”
Alibasic feels strongly about the benefits sports give persons with disability, giving his story as a prime example: “I was 12 when I stepped on a landmine. For a boy that age, my whole world crashed. Fortunately, at the urging of my friend Edin Ibrakovi? I went to the training of club Sons of Bosnia and that it's how all began.”
“My message to all persons with disabilities is that they never surrender and give up.
“They should not allow their disability to be an obstacle in achieving the goals and their desires. Sport in general and especially sitting volleyball is a great way to get involved in society and contribute their psychophysical health.”
Now it is time for Alibasic to look ahead to his upcoming competitions. Alibasic said: “My plans for 2015 are to defend our medal at the European Championship and then we will continue with preparations for the Paralympic Games and, God willing, for one more gold medal.
“In Rio we expect above all superb game and good opponents. All teams will be well prepared and certainly it is not going to be easy but I expect that my county will be in the final.”