Egypt’s judo federation denied on Tuesday that its Olympic competitor Islam El Shehaby had been sent home for refusing to shake the hand of an Israeli opponent.
An International Olympic Committee spokesman said Monday that the Egyptian Olympic Committee “strongly condemned the actions of Mr Islam El Shehaby and has sent him home.”
The Egyptian judoka raised a storm at the judo by refusing to shake hands, and at first refusing to bow, after losing to Israel’s Or Sasson. He was reprimanded by an Olympic disciplinary commission.
Egyptian judo federation president Sameh Moubasher told AFP that El Shehaby “was not sent home.”
“He returned with his colleagues. The whole judo team returned yesterday at dawn,” he said.
On Sunday, Sasson told Army Radio that he did not expect Shehaby to shake his hand, but still decided to extend his own hand to his opponent to show “respect.”
Speaking from Rio de Janeiro two days after winning the bronze medal in the over-100kg tournament, Sasson said that Muslim athletes are often cold toward Israeli competitors, but that while rival judokas may not be friends, they should show appreciation for each other.
“To honor your rival is something I was educated to do,” he told the radio station. “The Olympics is built on respect.”
The Egyptian El Youm el Sabah news site on Sunday quoted Shehaby as saying he did not initially plan to ignore Sasson’s outstretched hand, but that it was rather a spur-of-the-moment decision.
Shehaby claimed he didn’t break any rules by not shaking Sasson’s hand moments after the Israeli threw him to the mat, beating him.
“The Israeli athlete is not my friend whom I must greet,” he said, adding, “I worked really hard to get into this Olympics, and in the end it turned into something political.”
Sasson, a two-time European silver medalist who turns 26 on August 18, brushed off the unpleasant encounter with Shehaby in the first round of the tournament and went on to win two more fights, claiming a place in the semifinals against France’s legendary Teddy Riner. After narrowly losing to Riner, he beat Cuba’s Alex Mendoza to claim a bronze.
Sasson and fellow Israeli judoka medalist Yarden Gerbi returned to Israel on Monday to a hero’s welcome at Ben Gurion Airport, where nearly 1,000 fans turned up to welcome home the athletes.