Israel’s Tal Flicker is the current world No. 1 in judo’s U66 kg division, an established star who has won several world championship events this year.
On Thursday, Flicker, 25, added to his gold collection, defeating Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan in the Grand Slam Abu Dhabi. Accordingly, he took his place on the winner’s podium, gratefully accepted his gold medal, and stood straight for the playing of Israel’s national anthem, “Hatikvah.”
Except that, as Flicker knew would be the case, the organizers of this world tournament in the United Arab Emirates refused to play “Hatikvah.” Instead, Flicker and the rest of those in the hall and watching elsewhere heard the anthem of the International Judo Federation. Neither was the Israeli flag raised in pride of place. Rather, again, it was the IJF symbol that the organizers installed. (Likewise, there was no Israeli flag displayed for bronze medalists Gili Cohen, shortly before Flicker’s win on Thursday, and Tohar Butbul, on Friday.
IJF Code of Ethics (clause 2): ‘There shall be no discrimination between the participants on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion… or other grounds’
Flicker handled the snub with considerable aplomb. Shutting out what he would later describe as the “background noise” of the IJF anthem, he sung his own “Hatikvah.”
ISRAELI Tal Flicker presented with his gold medal at #JudoAbuDhabi2017 without Israeli anthem or flag. Nice to see Tal singing something and I'm guessing it's the #Hatikvah@Ostrov_A pic.twitter.com/RzwGdn0Bh8
— SussexFriendsIsrael (@SussexFriends) October 26, 2017
Speaking to Israeli TV from his hotel room afterwards, he said he’d made up his mind from the start that he’d sing “Hatikvah,” and dismissed the organizing nation’s insult. “The whole world knows that we’re from Israel, knows who we represent,” he said. “The fact that they hid our flag, it’s just a…” He paused, searching for the word. “It’s just a patch on our flag,” he said.
A day later, Tohar Butbul handled an Arab rival’s contempt with similar equanimity. Evidently undeterred that his defeated UAE opponent Rashad Almashjari refused to shake his proffered hand, Butbul, 23, progressed on through the tournament to wind up with the bronze in his category by defeating Italy’s Olympic champion Fabio Basile.
Adding insult to insult, the IJF has been partially complicit in this anti-Israeli discrimination. Its own website’s reporting on Flicker’s gold medal success described him (and still does in this article) as representing not Israel but, risibly, the IJF. “The IJF are in second place with one gold and one bronze medal,” it reported, ridiculously, on Thursday night. (By Friday evening, its medals table for the tournament was at least accurately showing Israel’s gold and two bronzes to have indeed been won by “Israel.”
Some might argue that Israel should not have participated in a tournament whose UAE hosts messed the team around regarding visas and informed the sport’s international administration in advance that Israelis would only be tolerated if they exhibited no sign whatsoever of being Israeli. But the Israeli thinking was that its excellent judokas emphatically should participate, and that they would hopefully strike a contrast, through sporting excellence and good grace, to the rudeness of the UAE organizers. And so it has proved.
But that emphatically should not be the end of the matter. When the UAE Judo Federation made plain ahead of the tournament that the Israeli team would not be allowed to compete under the Israeli flag, the IJF wrote to the hosts to demand that “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”
The UAE Judo Federation paid it absolutely no heed. Why would it? It had imposed the same discrimination against Israel’s judokas two years ago; Israel won two bronze medals in the 2015 tournament — which meant far fewer headlines than the unignorable gold-medal success of Tal Flicker.
The very word ‘judo’ means ‘gentle way’
Rather than Israelis facing the dilemma of whether to compete as unwanted intruders in events such as this, it now falls to the IJF to ensure that there is no discrimination at future tournaments, and that hosts who cannot abide by its requirement that all delegations be treated “absolutely equally” not be permitted to hold events. (Incidentally, “Palestine,” as an International Olympic Committee member, is one of the IJF’s 198 “member countries.” We can all argue long and hard over the differences or similarities, but if Israel wanted to host an IJF event, it would be required to treat Palestinian participants equally.)
A martial art with a 135-year history, judo is governed by etiquette designed to underline the importance of respect. The very word “judo” means “gentle way.” There should be no place in the sport for those who do not embrace its spirit.
As the IJF’s own Code of Ethics (clause 2) states unequivocally, “There shall be no discrimination between the participants on the basis of race, gender, ethnic origin, religion, philosophical or political opinion, marital status or other grounds.”
The UAE trampled all over those principles this week. It should not permitted to do so again.