UAE, Tunisia stripped of judo events for discriminating against Israeli athletes

International Judo Federation doesn’t explicitly mention Israel in its decision but notes last year’s ban on Israelis competing under national anthem, insignia

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)
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)

The International Judo Federation on Friday stripped the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia from hosting two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.

Though it did not mention Israel specifically, the IJF cited “experiences from previous years” that included bans on the display of Israeli symbols and the playing of the national anthem.

“Prior to this decision and after carefully analyzing the past situations involving the denial of participation in equal conditions of all IJF member federations – with their national insignia and anthem at the aforementioned events, and after repeated past interventions, the IJF officially requested the two organizers to provide a letter of guarantee signed by the government that all IJF member nations would have the right to participate in their events in equal conditions,” it said in a statement.

As neither country had yet to give such a guarantee by the IJF’s given deadline, the federation said the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix would be suspended until the UAE and Tunisia guarantee “free and equal participation” for all countries at the tournaments.

“The International Judo Federation is aware that the situation and incidents registered are due to a complex and complicated political and historical context, but we strongly believe that politics should not have any interference in sports and that sports should be a reflection of human respect, understanding and mutual cooperation and that sports, as one of the highest expressions of humanity, should have the power to overcome any other conflict or interest,” the IJF said.

The federation also noted its statutes prohibit discrimination “on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion.”

The IJF’s decision to suspend the tournaments in Abu Dhabi and Tunis was welcomed by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev.

“The International Judo Federation is committed to promoting the moral principles and values of Judo, Olympism and sport in general, thus making an active contribution to the promotion of peace and equality between nations, races and genders,” she said in a statement.

Left to right: Israel Judo Association head Moshe Ponti, Interational Judo Federation President Marius Vizer, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem in April, 2018. (Eli Sabati via GPO)

The decision to suspend the tournaments came after organizers at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

This 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.

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker stands on the podium at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where the local judo authorities banned the display of all Israeli symbols, on October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

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.

The national flags of medal winners at the 2017 Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, with the Israeli flag replaced by the flag of the International Judo Federation (second from right) due to the United Arab Emirates Judo Federation’s ban on Israeli symbols at the event. Israel’s Gili Cohen took bronze at the competition, which took place on October 26, 2017. The other flags, from left to right, are of Brazil, Belgium and Romania. (YouTube screen capture)

The UAE’s failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israelis at this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam also came despite the head of Israel’s judo federation saying he sincerely believed Israeli judokas would be able to display their national symbols.

“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 at the time 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 compete under their own flag and symbols.

An Israeli athlete was allowed to display national symbols shortly later at a tournament in Morocco after the IJF intervened following Morocco’s refusal to grant visas to the Israeli team.

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