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Algerian suspended from world judo for refusal to face Israeli at Olympics

International judo federation withdraws Fethi Nourine’s accreditation after he pulls out of contest, says his actions are ‘in total opposition to our philosophy’

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

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach Amar Benikhlef had their Olympic accreditation withdrawn on Saturday and will be sent home, after refusing to fight an Israeli athlete.

The International Judo Federation’s (IJF) executive committee announced they had temporarily suspended Nourine and Benikhlef. In response, the Algerian Olympic Committee withdrew their accreditation, and further sanctions are expected.

The IJF said Nourine’s stance was “in total opposition to the philosophy of the International Judo Federation.”

“The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo,” it added.

“Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport.”

Nourine was set to face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool on Monday in his first bout, with a possible second round showdown against Israeli Tohar Butbul in the men’s 73kg division.

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

But speaking to an Algerian television station late Thursday, he said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against an Israeli.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics… but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this,” he said, adding that his decision was “final.”

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

It is not the first time Nourine has pulled out to avoid facing an Israeli opponent, after a similar move at the 2019 world championships, also in Tokyo.

Iranian judokas have also come under fire for refusing to compete against their Israeli counterparts.

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, the 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, on September 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) 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.”

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