Fethi Nourine. (Screenshot) Screenshot
Fethi Nourine

An Algerian judo athlete will be sent home after he withdrew from the competition to avoid potentially facing an Israeli opponent.

By United with Israel Staff and AP

Fethi Nourine and his coach, Amar Benikhlef, told Algerian media they were withdrawing from the Olympic Games.

They took the step to avoid a possible second-round matchup with Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the men’s 73 kg division on Monday. Nourine was to face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool in the opening round, with the winner facing Butbul, the fifth seed.

The Algerian judo athlete will be sent home after he withdrew from the competition to avoid potentially facing an Israeli opponent.

He claims the decision was based on political considerations and loyalty to the Palestinians. In reality, Nourine would likely face scorn and shame if he were to be beaten by an opponent from Israel, which has proven itself a force to be reckoned with in international judo competitions.

The International Judo Federation’s executive committee has temporarily suspended Nourine and Benikhlef, who are likely to face sanctions beyond the Olympics. The Algerian Olympic committee then withdrew both men’s accreditation and made plans to send them home.

Nourine and Benikhlef are the latest in a string of athletes and coaches who promote anti-Israel agendas on the world stage by boycotting athletes from the Jewish state.

The world’s top state-sponsor of terrorism, Iran, bars its athletes from competing against Israelis.

Not all Iranians comply with the discriminatory policy. Some have even risked their lives and fled the Islamic Republic to protest anti-Israel boycotts.

Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who won the World Judo Championship in 2018, escaped Iran a year later and received “recognized refugee” status from Germany on November 1, 2019. This was granted following his secret escape to the country from Tokyo during the 2019 World Championship after he was forced to throw his matches to avoid facing Israeli opponent Sagi Muki.

At the time, Mollaei’s coach received two calls from Iranian authorities instructing him to throw his semi-final match in order to avoid meeting Muki, who went on to win the gold medal in the final. Mollaei, 27, bravely ignored the warnings, which could have lead to danger for him and his family in Iran.

He put out a call to for help during an interview with the International Judo Federation (IJF).

“I need help,” Mollaei said during the interview. “Even if the authorities of my country told me that I can go back without any problems, I am afraid. I am afraid of what might happen to my family and to myself. Today, the National Olympic Committee of Iran and the Sport Minister told me to not compete, that I had to comply with the law.”

Mollaei said that he cried when he heard the mandate and wanted to defend the gold medal that he won in the 81-kilogram weight class at the 2018 World Championships in Azerbaijan.

“I am a fighter. I want to compete wherever I can,” he said. “I live in a country whose law does not permit me to. We have no choice, all athletes must comply with it. All I did today was for my life, for a new life.”

“I could have been the world champion,” noted Mollaei. “I’ve been training hard, making lots of efforts. Today, I fought and won against an Olympic champion, an Olympics bronze medalist and other opponents. I beat all of them. I even dreamed of the championship title today. But that was not my fate. I could not compete because of the law in my country, and because I was scared of consequences for my family and myself.”

Responding to Mollaei’s desperation, International Judo Federation chief Marius Vizer assisted his escape.

Following Muki’s gold medal win, which was the first ever for Israel’s male judo fighters in a world championship, Mollaei congratulated the Israeli champion in an extraordinary Instagram exchange.

“Congratulation champion,” Mollaei replied to an Instagram post by Muki that included emojis of a gold medal and a championship cup.

“Thank you,” Muki responded. “You are an inspiration as a human being and as an athlete.”

The International Judo Federation indefinitely banned Iran from competing following the Mollaei incident.