Moroccan authorities take down Israeli judo team
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Moroccan authorities take down Israeli judo team

Athletes held for nine hours in airport; spectators at the World Masters Judo Tournament shout 'We'll kill you' at them

Yarden Gerbi celebrates her victory over Abe Kana from Japan in the semifinal of the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, August 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Silvia Izquierdo)
Yarden Gerbi celebrates her victory over Abe Kana from Japan in the semifinal of the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, August 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

The Israeli judo team that traveled to the World Masters Judo Tournament, held this weekend in Rabat, Morocco, were nearly banned from entering the country, and competed before a hostile crowd once the event began.

The seven-member Israeli team’s difficulties began even before they reached Ben-Gurion Airport, according to the Hebrew-language news site Walla. When Shin Bet officials refused to provide security for the trip, the team went to Rabat on Wednesday with privately funded security guards — only to have their passports confiscated once they reached the airport in Morocco. There they were not initially allowed into the country, but kept in a room with no chairs, food or water for close to nine hours.

The team had insisted on going to the tournament despite the difficulties because the event could provide team members with enough points to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games to be held in Rio de Janeiro, the Ynet news site reported.

The Moroccan authorities blamed the airport delay on the Israeli team’s lack of visas but changed their story later on, saying that a gun had been found in one team member’s luggage, Ynet reported. Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponti contacted Marius Vizer, the president of the International Judo Federation’s executive committee, and asked for his assistance. At Vizer’s intervention, which included a threat to cancel the entire competition unless the Israeli team was released, the Moroccan authorities permitted the Israelis to proceed to their hotel, under the protection of a unit of the king’s security guards.

Things went from bad to worse as the weekend progressed. The Israeli flag was absent from the venue where the event took place, prompting a representative from the International Judo Federation to demand that all the flags of the participating countries be taken down. The Israeli team was also not mentioned on the tournament’s website. The spectators waved Palestinian flags, shouted “We’re going to kill you,” and booed each time a member of the Israeli team appeared.

“What happened in Morocco is a shame,” judoka Yarden Gerbi wrote on her Facebook page. “As an Israeli I feel ashamed to wait 8 hours at the airport, I feel ashamed to hear the crowed [sic] boo me and my teammates and want us to lose — and why? Because we are Israelis. We came for sports, pure sport, not politics. It’s an embarrassment for Morocco and the organization. I hope us Israelis, and no one else, for that matter, ever has to experience such behavior again. It’s against sport in general, and judo in particular.”

The Israeli team won no medals in the competition. “I’m very disappointed — not with the results, but with the spectators’ behavior,” Ponti said.

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