Algerian judoka banned for 10 years for refusing Olympic bout with Israeli

Fethi Nourine’s coach given same punishment by International Judo Federation after he withdrew from Tokyo Games on opening day to avoid facing Tohar Butbul

Algerian Judoka Fethi Nourine. (Screenshot)
Algerian Judoka Fethi Nourine. (Screenshot)

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine has been banned from competition for 10 years by the International Judo Federation after his withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics to avoid a potential bout against an Israeli opponent.

Nourine’s coach, IJF Hall of Famer Amar Benikhlef, also received a 10-year ban Monday.

Nourine withdrew from the Tokyo Games on the opening day after learning he could potentially face Olympic bronze medalist Tohar Butbul in the second round of men’s lightweight competition at the Budokan. Nourine and Benikhlef told Algerian media they quit to express support for Palestinians.

The Algerian Olympic committee withdrew both men’s accreditations and sent them home. After an investigation, the IJF issued a ban that effectively ends the competitive career of the 30-year-old Nourine, a three-time gold medalist in the African Judo Championships.

“It is evident that the two Algerian judoka, with malicious intent, have used the Olympic Games as a platform for protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda, which is a clear and serious breach of the IJF Statutes, the IJF Code of Ethics and the Olympic Charter,” the IJF said in a statement. “Therefore, no other penalty than a severe suspension can be imposed in this case.”

The 39-year-old Benikhlef won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul competes in Abu Dhabi on October 27, 2017 (YouTube screenshot)

Butbul advanced to the round of 16 without a bout in the 73-kilogram division in Tokyo because of the withdrawals of Nourine and Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool, who also quit the tournament before fighting Butbul. Abdalrasool claimed he had an injury, but Butbul and the Israeli team didn’t believe it, citing the fact Abdalrasool weighed in for the bout one day earlier.

Butbul was eliminated in the quarterfinals of his weight class, but he was a member of the Israeli team that won a bronze medal in the first-ever mixed team competition.

Nourine and Benikhlef could appeal their bans to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The governing body of judo has been firm in its antidiscrimination policies and strong support of Israel’s right to compete in recent years.

In April, the IJF suspended Iran for four years because the nation refused to allow its fighters to face Israelis. The IJF said Iran’s policies were revealed when former Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei claimed he was ordered to lose in the semifinals of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo to avoid potentially facing Israeli world champion Sagi Muki in the finals.

Mollaei received asylum in Germany and citizenship in Mongolia. He won a silver medal representing Mongolia at the Tokyo Olympics.

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.”

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)

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.

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.

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