Diplomatic ties or no, sports minister may attend Abu Dhabi judo tournament

Reported invitation to Miri Regev comes after UAE guaranteed equal treatment of Israeli athletes following last year’s discrimination

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks at an event marking the Jewish new year in the northern Israeli city of Safed on September 3, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev speaks at an event marking the Jewish new year in the northern Israeli city of Safed on September 3, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev will likely travel with the national judo team later this month to the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam tournament in the United Arab Emirates, a country that has no diplomatic ties with Israel.

Regev’s attendance at the event is contingent upon the necessary security arrangements being made by the Shin Bet security agency and the UAE, according to the Kan public broadcaster, which reported that she will be joined by Yossi Sharabi, the director-general of her ministry.

In a letter dated October 2 and published by the Ynet news site, the president of the International Judo Federation (IJF) invited Regev to the Abu Dhabi tournament in order to sign an agreement to host the Tel Aviv Grand Prix.

“The International Judo Federation will make all the necessary arrangements for your visit,” Marius Vizer wrote in the letter.

There was no immediate confirmation from Regev on whether she would attend the tournament in Abu Dhabi, which will take place on October 27-29.

Though Israel has no formal ties with the UAE, which like most Arab states refuses to recognize the Jewish state over its decades-long conflict with the Palestinians, a New Yorker a report in July said the countries have maintained secret yet close ties since the 1990s.

The UAE’s hosting of this month’s Grand Slam was thrown into doubt over the summer when along with Tunisia it was barred by the IJF from hosting international judo tournaments for failing to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.

The IJF in September rescinded the ban on Abu Dhabi after receiving assurances from the UAE Judo Federation that Israeli athletes would be allowed to display the country’s symbols and play the national anthem.

The federation at the time praised the UAE for its “fair-play and mutual friendship and respect,” and for taking a “huge step forward in establishing and promoting peaceful relationships between all nations of the world.”

Tal Flicker of Israel during the fight in the 66kg category at the Judo World Championship Budapest 2017, on August 28, 2017, in Budapest, Hungary. (Rok Rakun/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images/JTA)

At last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, organizers refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

That included a ban on the display of identifying symbols, as well as a refusal to fly the Israeli flag and play the national anthem during ceremonies for Israel’s five medalists. The Israeli competitors instead competed under the flag of the IJF due to the UAE’s non-recognition of Israel.

International Judo Federation flag flies for Israeli gold medalist Tal Flicker after organizers bans Israeli symbols at Abu Dhabi Grand Slam. (Screen capture: YouTube)

In one notable instance, gold medal winner Tal Flicker privately sang “Hatikvah” as the IJF’s anthem played in the background and its flag was raised.

Additionally, two judokas from the UAE and Morocco refused to shake the hands of their Israeli competitors. The UAE’s top judo official later apologized to his Israeli counterpart over the snub.

After last year’s tournament, the head of Israel’s judo federation has said he sincerely believes Israeli judokas will be allowed to display their national symbols in future events.

“I can confirm that they told me that they will do everything so that next year things that happened this year won’t happen again next year,” Moshe Ponte told The Times of Israel following a meeting he had with the head of the Emirati judo federation.

He also said then that the president of the IJF was making a “great effort” to allow Israelis to compete under their own flag and symbols.

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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