Tokyo 2020

International Olympic Committee ‘concerned’ by forfeits to avoid Israeli judoka

IOC director of solidarity James Macleod says committee ‘will adopt a strict position’ on violations of the Olympic charter

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Israel's Tohar Butbul gets ready to compete in the judo men's -73kg elimination round bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)
Israel's Tohar Butbul gets ready to compete in the judo men's -73kg elimination round bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Jack GUEZ / AFP)

A representative of the International Olympic Committee said Tuesday that it is “monitoring” reports that two judokas forfeited their matches rather than face an Israeli opponent, and vowed to “take all necessary measures” against the athletes.

Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool failed to appear at his slated competition against Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul in the men’s 73-kg division on Monday, without providing a reason. On Saturday, Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine pulled out of the contest to avoid facing Butbul, citing his support for the Palestinian cause.

“Obviously the IOC is always concerned in these cases and is monitoring it very closely,” International Olympic Committee director of solidarity James Macleod told a media briefing in Tokyo on Tuesday. “Clearly if there are flagrant abuses of the Olympic charter, the IOC will take all necessary measures in that respect.”

Macleod noted that Nourine and his coach, Amar Benikhlef, had their Olympic accreditation withdrawn on Saturday and were sent home.

“In the case of the Algerian athlete and coach, the national Olympic committee took immediate action, very prompt action, to remove the athlete and the coach from the team and send them home,” he said.

Nourine told an Algerian TV station last week that his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against an Israeli.

Algerian Judoka Fethi Nourine. (Screenshot)

“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.

The International Judo Federation’s (IJF) executive committee 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,” adding that the IJF “has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo.”

Asked by reporters about the behavior of the Algerian and Sudanese athletes — as well as a similar pattern in the past from Iranian and Egyptian competitors — Macleod said the IOC takes every incident seriously.

“The IOC is looking at every case that’s brought to us,” he said on Tuesday. “We will investigate anything that is raised to us, even from third parties. We will work with the national Olympic committees concerned, the international federations, etc., to respond to those on a case-by-case basis.”

Israel’s Tohar Butbul competes in the judo men’s -73kg repechage bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 26, 2021. (Amit Shisel/Israel Olympic Committee)

The IOC official added that the Olympic organization “has been very clear that non-discrimination, autonomy — all of these principles that are in the Olympic charter — are things we will not flinch from and we will adopt a strict position on all of those.”

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.

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

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.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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