Lebanese athlete said to pull out from MMA contest to avoid facing Israeli

Hezbollah-linked outlet says Abdullah Miniato has withdrawn from world youth martial arts championship in Bulgaria because he refuses to recognize Israel

Illustrative: People take part in a MMA (Mixed Martials Arts) training session, on May 2, 2016 in Paris. (Francois Guillot/AFP)
Illustrative: People take part in a MMA (Mixed Martials Arts) training session, on May 2, 2016 in Paris. (Francois Guillot/AFP)

A Lebanese mixed martial arts fighter announced on Saturday that he will not compete in an upcoming championship in Bulgaria to avoid facing an Israeli opponent, according to media reports.

Abdullah Miniato and his coach Muhammad Al-Gharbi said they are withdrawing from the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation Youth MMA World Championships, after a draw placed Miniato against an Israeli, the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar said.

The Lebanese television station said that the player “refuses to recognize Israel or practice any form of normalization” and therefore pulled out of the competition immediately upon learning who he’d face.

The IMMAF Youth MMA World Championships for 12 to 18-year-olds is being held this weekend in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Seven Israeli athletes are registered, according to the event’s organizers. Eight are from Lebanon, including Miniato.

There was no immediate statement from the IMMAF on the matter.

Historically, many athletes from Arab or Muslim nations have boycotted playing against Israelis in sporting matches. A pair of judokas forfeited their matches at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games this week rather than face an Israeli opponent.

Despite having diplomatic ties with the Jewish state, Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool didn’t show up to an Olympic match against Israel’s Tohar Butbul on Monday.

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach Amar Benikhlef had their Olympic accreditation withdrawn last Saturday, after also refusing to fight Butbul at the Summer Games.

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.

But defying expectations that she would forfeit the match, Saudi Arabia’s judoka Tahani Alqahtani faced off against Israel’s Raz Hershko in the Tokyo Olympics on Friday. Hershko won the fight, but lost a later round in the competition.

Prior to the fight, the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee announced Alqahtani would be facing the Israeli judoka, in a rare message for a country with no official ties with Israel.

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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