Algerian judoka sent home from Olympics after refusing to compete against Israeli

An Algerian judoka has been suspended and sent home after withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics when his draw set him on course to compete against an Israeli.

Speaking before his suspension, Fethi Nourine, a competitor in the men’s under-73kg division, said that his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against Israeli Tohar Butbul, who he was due to meet in the second round.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics,” said Nourine, who was due to compete in the opening round on Monday. “But the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this.”

It is not the first time that Nourine has withdrawn from competition to avoid facing an Israeli opponent, having also pulled out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo for the same reason.

The International Judo Federation responded by suspending Nourine and his coach Amar Benikhlef, who on Friday had told Algerian media: “We were not lucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”

In a statement the IJF added that the behaviour of both Algerians was “in total opposition to our philosophy”.

“The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo,” it added, adding that a disciplinary commission would decide on further sanctions “beyond the Olympic Games”.

Its statement came after the Algerian Olympic Committee withdrew the accreditation for both men and confirmed it would send them home.

It is not the first time Israeli judokas have seen their opponents withdraw or refuse to acknowledge them. At the 2016 Olympics in Rio, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby quit the sport, just hours after refusing to shake the hand of his victorious Israeli rival Or Sasson in the first round of the men’s over-100kg competition.

Meanwhile in April, Iran was given a four-year ban by the IJF for “repeated and very severe breaches” of the organisation’s statutes after it pressured one of its fighters not to face an Israeli athlete.

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