Algerian judoka said to quit Olympics in order to not face Israeli opponent

A day before the Tokyo Olympics are set to officially open, Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine reportedly pulled out of the games on Thursday in order to avoid the possibility of facing an Israeli competitor.

According to Hebrew media reports, Nourine made the decision after he was drawn earlier Thursday to face Tohar Butbul in the second round of the under-73kg men’s judo competition, if he were to advance past his first fight.

“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,” Nourine’s coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted in the reports as telling Algerian media.

In 2019, Nourine pulled out of the Judo World championships when also drawn to face Butbul.

Butbul will now face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalarasool in his first fight.

It’s not the first time Israeli judokas have faced discrimination in the sport.

At the 2016 games, 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 at the Rio Olympics.

Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel’s Or Sasson in their men’s over-100kg judo contest at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

The 32-year-old Egyptian, a world championship medalist in 2010, had faced pressure on social media and from hardline Islamist groups in his homeland to withdraw from the match and faced intense criticism afterward for losing to an Israeli.

In April, International Judo Federation issued a four-year ban against the Iranian Judo Federation over Tehran’s demands that its athletes refuse to face Israeli opponents.

The ban was backdated to begin in September 2019, when judoka Saeid Mollaei left the Iranian team during the World Championship in Tokyo, revealing he was ordered to lose matches and withdraw from competitions to avoid facing Israelis.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei at an undisclosed southern city of Germany, September 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The International Olympic Committee last year approved Mollaei’s switch to compete for Mongolia. The IOC said the change did not need permission from Iranian Olympic officials because the judoka was technically a refugee.

Earlier this year, Mollaei traveled to Israel to compete in a Judo Grand Slam competition held in Tel Aviv.

While in the Jewish state, he told Israel’s Kan TV: “I’m competing only for Mongolia. I no longer compete for Iran. That part is over for me… I’ve always been a sportsman. I’ve never engaged in politics.”

Winning the silver medal at the competition, Mollaei said Israel had been “very kind. That is something I will never forget.”

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