Under pressure, UAE says it will treat Israelis equally at upcoming sports event
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Under pressure, UAE says it will treat Israelis equally at upcoming sports event

After judo federation banned Emirates from hosting grand slam over discrimination, athletes to be allowed to display Israeli flag, sing anthem

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)

Israelis will be able to compete equally at the upcoming Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, after the United Arab Emirates reversed its policy of banning athletes from the Jewish state from using Israeli symbols, the International Judo Federation (IJF) said Monday.

In July, the federation stripped the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia from hosting two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes, who were not allowed to compete under their nation’s flag or play the national anthem if they won.

In a statement, the federation said it was “pleased to announce that… the UAE Judo Federation confirmed in an official letter sent to the IJF that all nations participating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam will have the possibility to do so in equal conditions.”

The tournament is due to take place on October 25-27.

The federation praised the UAE for its “fair-play and mutual friendship and respect,” and for taking a “huge step forward in establishing and promoting peaceful relationships between all nations of the world.”

“The historic decision will thus allow all nations to display their national insignia and national anthem, including Israel,” the statement said.

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)

At last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, organizers refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

That 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.

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.

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)

The head of Israel’s judo federation has said he sincerely believes Israeli judokas will be allowed to display their national symbols in future events.

“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 last year 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 to compete under their own flag and symbols.

Alexander Fulbright contributed to this report.

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