Egyptian judoka quits sport after refusing to shake Israel rival’s hand
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Egyptian judoka quits sport after refusing to shake Israel rival’s hand

World judo body to review Islam El Shahaby's actions, but hails Arab world's willingness to even compete against Israelis

Israel's Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt's Islam El Shahaby during their men's +100kg judo contest at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)
Israel's Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt's Islam El Shahaby during their men's +100kg judo contest at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby quit the sport on Friday, 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.

Some elements of the Egyptian media were furious Friday at the judoka for losing to an Israeli, Army Radio said. The outlets blamed Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for El Shahaby’s appearance at the fight itself.

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.

The International Judo Federation said after the fight that it would review El Shahaby’s stance. IJF spokesman Nicolas Messner said fighters are not obliged to shake hands after a fight, but do have to bow.

El Shahaby initially did neither, earning the boos of the crowd, but was pressured into bowing by the referee. He was then loudly jeered out of the arena by angry supporters.

“There is no obligation for shaking hands at the end of the fight, but it is compulsory to bow, that’s why the Egyptian was called back to bow and he did,” Messner said.

“Nevertheless, his attitude will be reviewed after the Games to see if any further action should be taken.”

Egypt's Islam Elshehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel's Or Sasson in their men's +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)
Egypt’s Islam Elshehaby (blue) refuses to shake hands after defeat by Israel’s Or Sasson in their men’s +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

Messner said that the fact that the Egyptian actually turned up for the match signaled “a big improvement” in the Arab states’ attitude to Israeli athletes at the Olympics.

“In the past, it is not sure that a fight between those two athletes would have taken place. This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to be opposed to Israel,” he said.

Sasson, who defeated El Shahaby in the first round, was left standing at the end of the match when his opponent refused to shake his hand.

Israel's Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt's Islam Elshehaby during their men's +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Toshifumi KITAMURA)
Israel’s Or Sasson (white) competes with Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby during their men’s +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (AFP/Toshifumi Kitamura)

In judo it is customary to both bow to opponents — a sign of respect in Japan — and shake hands after a bout is over.

El Shehaby had been well beaten but stood impassively and then backed away as Sasson tried to shake his hand. As he left the mat area, El Shehaby was called back to the center by the referee.

Unlike some other Muslim and Arab nations, Egypt has no history of withdrawing from judo bouts against Israelis.

The Egyptian Olympic Committee had insisted before the fight that El Shehaby would compete.

Sasson later advanced to the quarterfinals of the competition, after beating Maciej Sarnacki of Poland in the following round. He then made it to the semifinals by defeating Holland’s Roy Meyer, the world No. 3.

Israel and Egypt have had formal bilateral relations since the 1979 Camp David peace agreement, although the Jewish state remains deeply unpopular on the Arab country’s street.

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