A spokesman for the International Olympic Committee said Friday that the IOC would look into the refusal by Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby to shake the hand of his victorious Israeli opponent Or Sasson after their first round match in the men’s over-100kg competition at the Rio Games on Friday.
“Things happen in the heat of the moment that are not acceptable,” said Mark Adams, although he clarified that he hadn’t heard all the details of the incident.
“We believe the Olympic movement should be about building bridges, not erecting walls. There’s absolutely no excuse for it.”
He acknowledged that sometimes athletes can’t bring themselves to shake hands with their competitors.
“It’s a shame if that happens,” Adams said.
Egypt’s Olympic Committee distanced itself from El Shehaby’s actions, saying the Egyptian was “alerted before the match to abide by all the rules and to have sporting spirit during his match with the Israeli player.”
“What the player did after the match, and not shaking hands with his rival, is a personal action,” the committee said in a statement.
Ofir Gendelman, Arabic language spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the incident “shocking.” In a Twitter post, he said it “goes against the spirit of Rio 2016,” writing in Arabic said that “sports are not the field for politics and extremism.”
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) August 12, 2016
Similar scuffles have happened before between Israeli and Arab judo athletes. At the quarter-finals of the 2011 judo Grand Slam in Moscow, Egyptian Ramadan Darwish refused to shake hands with Israeli Arik Zeevi. The next year, Darwish again declined to shake hands with Zeevi after beating the Israeli in their quarterfinal match at a tournament in Dusseldorf.
On Thursday, Moutaz Matar, a TV host of the Islamist-leaning network Al-Sharq, had urged El Shehaby to withdraw.
Very sad. Egyptian Judoka Islam El Shehaby refuses to shake hands with Israeli Ori Sasson after losing. https://t.co/vZYZZZhItq
— Raphael Gellar (@Raphael_Gellar) August 12, 2016
“My son, watch out. Don’t be fooled, or fool yourself, thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy,” he said. “Egypt will cry; Egypt will be sad and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people.”
Egyptians clearly were divided before the match over whether El Shehaby should compete or withdraw, and there was a mixed reaction on social media afterward. Many blamed him for embarrassing the country, although some felt sympathy for El Shehaby, saying he was put under a lot of pressure.
In a Facebook post in Arabic, Egyptian journalist Galal Nassar said: “As long as you agreed to play an Israeli champion in the Olympics, you should have exchanged the greeting.”
He wrote that El Shehaby’s move backfired, and the Israeli player ended up with more sympathy. “We have lost in terms of sports and politics,” Nassar said. He also shared a post about the incident by The Israel Project.
BREAKING: More shocking hate at the Rio Olympics. Israel's Ori Sasson beats Egyptian Islam El Shehaby in 1st round of…
In 1979, Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to sign a peace treaty and normalize relations with Israel after decades of war.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report