Israeli Judoka Yarden Gerbi points to her Israeli flag at the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP/Silvia Izquierdo) (AP/Silvia Izquierdo)
Yarden Gerbi

For years, Israeli athletes have faced boycotts, snubs and logistical hurdles related to sporting events hosted by Arab and Muslim countries. Finally, the IJF put its foot down. 

By: United with Israel Staff

Israel’s Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev welcomed the International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer’s decision to cancel IJF events in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Tunisia over their anti-Israel discrimination.

The IJF stated Friday that it 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.”

“Based on experiences from previous years and in an attempt to take a firm and constructive stance in the fight against discrimination in sport, the International Judo Federation announces that it will suspend two of its events, namely the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix,” the organization stated.

While the Jewish state was not mentioned by name, it is clear that anti-Israel discrimination at previous events necessitated this decision.

“Prior to this decision and after carefully analysing 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 organisers 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,” the statement said. No positive answer was received to date.

For years, Israeli athletes have faced boycotts, snubs and logistical hurdles in sporting events involving Arab and Muslim countries.

The IJF noted that it 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.”

Justified and Courageous Decision

Regev praised Vizer for his “justified and courageous decision” related to the Abu Dhabi and Tunisia tournaments, which was based on “their outrageous decision to draw a distinction between national teams that will be ‘allowed’ to fly their flags and to sound their national anthems and others which will not.”

“International competitions should not ban any state. They should be based upon equality,” Regev stated. “Sports should bring different nationalities together. Sport is a bridge between nations, cultures and people. The underlying principles are equality and the brotherhood of Mankind.”

“Tunisia and Abu Dhabi play an ugly game and show their prejudice. Mr. Vizer’s justified and brave decision should set an example to all international sports leaders,” she concluded.

Arab and Muslim countries regularly discriminate against Israeli athletes, subjecting them to humiliation, boycotts and other forms of shaming at international tournaments.

For example, in November, Morocco refused entry to Israel’s national judo team.

In October, Israel’s Judo team encountered Muslim hostility in Abu Dhabi when the country barred Israel’s team from donning national symbols and refused to play the Jewish state’s national anthem during the tournament.

The 12 Israeli athletes participating in the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam tournament were even prohibited from displaying the letters “ISR” on their uniforms to identify their nationality.

Similarly, in one of the competitions, Israel’s Tohar Butbul beat the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari, who then refused to shake hands after losing.

In February 2017, Iranian karate athlete Majid Hassaninia refused to compete against an Israeli opponent at the 21st Open de Paris – Karate Premier League in France. The Iranian sportsman acted in opposition to the accepted international code of honor in sports.