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Israeli Flag Banned from International Judo Competition in Abu Dhabi

October 18, 2017

by: Ilse Posselt

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Israeli judoka at prior competition (Illustrative)

Wednesday, 18 October 2017 | In less than a week, the best of the best judokas from around the world will flock to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to pit their strength and skill against one another in the annual Judo Grand Slam. Each athlete will step onto the mat with the national flag of his or her country proudly sewn onto the uniform. Yet the blue-and-white flag of Israel will be conspicuously missing from the myriad of national emblems.

The reason for the absence? The organizers in Abu Dhabi ruled last week that participating Israeli judokas will not be allowed to have the flag of Israel on their judo uniforms. The ruling also stipulates that the team from the Jewish state will not be allowed to have “ISR” (Israel) inscribed on their backs or next to their names on the scoreboard. Moreover, should any of the Israeli athletes win a medal, the Hatikvah—Israel’s national anthem—will not be played during the prize-giving ceremony. The UAE organizers thus demand that instead of representing Israel, the blue-and-white delegation compete under the banner of the International Judo Federation (IJF).

Israel’s Culture and Sports Minister, Miri Regev, denounced the decision and expressed the Jewish state’s outrage in a letter to Tomas Bach, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

“This morning, just a few days after I so happily received your invitation to the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, I was surprised to learn that members of the Israeli delegation would not be able to appear in this important competition with the identifying symbols of our country—the State of Israel,” Regev’s letter said.

“The demand to appear without national symbols is contrary to the mandate of international sports associations, the main aim of which is to separate politics from sport, and strengthen sport as a bridge and connection between peoples, cultures and countries. It is the obligation of any country which has the privilege of hosting an international competition to allow the competing athletes to represent the country honorably while ensuring their security.”

Israel Judo Association Chairman, Moshe Ponte, offered to withdraw from the event in protest, yet Regev advised him against such a move. The association subsequently released a statement clarifying its position. “We will not be dragged into the political arena and will not award prizes to those who want to deter us from appearing all over the world. Our goal is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and the competitions on the way are a means of achieving the goal. There are some who are trying to prevent us from achieving this goal, who would be happy if Israelis do not appear at the Olympics, but we will not let them disturb us.”

This is the second time that the Abu Dhabi-based tournament has not permitted Israeli athletes to compete under their national flag. The first incident took place in 2015.

The organizers in Abu Dhabi have failed to comment on this year’s decision. The UAE does not recognize Israel as a country and the two nations have no diplomatic relations.

A team of 12 Israeli athletes will participate in the Grand Slam, which takes place on 26 – 28 October. The delegation includes Rio de Janeiro bronze medalist, Ori Sasson, current European judo champion, Sagi Muki, and World Championship bronze medalist, Tal Flicker.  

This is not the first time that the sports field is being used as a platform to discriminate against and boycott Israel. In fact, athletes from Arab countries are known for forfeiting matches to avoid competing against an opponent from the Jewish state.

During the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, the often appalling treatment of Israeli athletes made international headlines when Egyptian judoka, Islam El Shehaby, refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent, Sasson, after their match. El Shehaby was sent home and Sasson went on to win a bronze medal. Moreover, the Lebanese Olympic delegation also barred the team from Israel from boarding the bus that was supposed to ferry the two teams to the opening ceremony. The IOC later reprimanded the Lebanese team.

Posted on October 18, 2017

Source: (Bridges for Peace, 18 October 2017)

Photo Credit: Facebook/Israel Judo Association

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