Israeli judoka Ori Sasson was booted from the Openweight World Championships in Marrakech, Morocco on Saturday after losing to Frenchman Cyrille Maret.
But Sasson, a 2016 Olympic bronze medalist, was at least allowed to wear Israeli insignia — in contrast to the ban imposed on Israeli national symbols at a tournament last month in Abu Dhabi.
Morocco had threatened not to grant visas to the Israeli team in the days leading up to the tournament. At one point last week team members arrived at Ben Gurion Airport only to be forced to head back home after receiving word they would not be allowed into the predominantly Muslim nation.
Eventually the matter was resolved after International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer personally intervened, and the Israeli athletes finally arrived in Marrakech, via Munich, on Thursday.
Last month Israeli athletes took five medals — one gold and four bronze — at the judo grand slam in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. But due to the regime’s refusal to recognize the State of Israel, they were not allowed to display any national symbols. Instead, 12 Israeli judokas competed under the flag and name of the International Judo Federation.
On Saturday, however, Sasson’s uniform sported the abbreviation of his home country (ISR), likely also a result of pressure by Vizer.
When on October 26 Tal Flicker of Herzliya beat Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan to take gold in the men’s under-66 kilogram category in Abu Dhabi, the IJF’s anthem was played instead of Hatikva. Adding insult to injury, athletes from the UAE and Morocco refused to shake hands with their Israeli opponents who defeated them.
The head of Israel’s judo federation Moshe Ponte later told The Times of Israel he believed Israel’s flag and national anthem will not be taboo in the UAE in the future.
“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,” Ponte said, referring to a meeting he had with the head of the Emirati judo federation.
Ponte added that he sincerely believes that at the 2018 Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, Israeli athletes will no longer be forced to hide their nationality.
On October 28, the president of the UAE’s judo federation, Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darie, met with Ponte and congratulated him on the Israeli team’s success in the tournament. Al-Darie also “apologized because of the UAE athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes,” IJF president Vizer said, according to the organization’s website.
“He apologized for the treatment we received and promised it won’t happen again,” Ponte said, adding that he understood Al-Darie’s apology to include the absence of Israeli national symbols.
“The president of the International Judo Federation is making a great effort to allow us to compete with our flag and anthem,” Ponte said.
In the October 28 statement, Vizer had hailed the Emirati’s apology as “a gesture of courage, humanity and respect for the sport” and hinted at his attempts to convince Arab states to allow Israeli national symbols at their tournaments.
“Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts, which have not been solved in many decades,” he said. “Two years ago we achieved the first participation of the Israel team in Abu Dhabi, now it’s the second time, but with a much better approach and I hope in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.”
Added Vizer: “Such delicate issues between countries, governments and nations cannot be solved overnight and cannot be solved through the sport immediately… I hope soon we can break down more barriers for more tolerance between countries and nations to express the real value of the sport, friendship unity and solidarity.”
Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.