Opinion: Withdrawal of Algerian Judoka Fethi Nurin from the Tokyo Games in order to avoid being paired up against Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul proves that IOC is too lenient against those who use the competition as a platform to openly boycott and denounce Israel
Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul(Photo: Oren Aharoni)
Israelis have grown used to it and what once prompted headlines and national discussions has become nothing but a trivial matter.
An athlete from an Arab country retires from a match in order to avoid competing against an Israeli.
Even the fact that it happened during the Tokyo Olympics was not enough to make it groundbreaking news.
And while Israel wasn’t shocked in the least when Algerian Judoka Fethi Nourine announced he preferred to withdraw from the Olympic Games than face Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul, the International Olympic Committee must respond harshly and appropriately to such a brazen act – because it is being made a fool of.
In the past, these boycotters at least bothered to put on an impressive show and feign injuries in order to provide a supposedly acceptable excuse for their premature retirement.
As for Nourine, when it became clear to him that a victory against Sudanese judoka Mohamed Abdalrasool in the first round would mean a probable match against Butbul, he publicly declared his withdrawal from Tokyo, and proudly added in an interview on Algerian television that “I do not intend to get my hands dirty by fighting him.”
Nourine’s coach, meanwhile, simply said: “We were unlucky. We got an Israeli opponent and that is why we had to withdraw. We made the right decision.”
With this galling withdrawal, Nourine spat in the face of judo as a sport.
It is difficult to understand how anyone can express themselves in this way during the Olympic Games without a hint of shame.
After all, the International Olympic Committee vehemently dissociates itself from politics and maintains a strict policy on the issue, including stringent restrictions on expressing political opinion during the games.
So how can it be that such shameful displays happen time and time again?
The punishment Nourine and his coach received was expulsion from the Olympic Village. A hollow punishment since Japan’s COVID rules state that an athlete is obliged to leave the country within three days of the end of his run at the Games.
Nourine’s impudence is clearly the result of the ongoing incitement against Israel around the globe.
After all, he did not bother to mask his antipathy towards Israel and even celebrated it on live television. Because for him and for many others, everything is allowed when it comes to defamation of Israel.
Abdalrasool, by the way, also withdrew from the Olympics before facing off against Butbul. Unlike Nourine though, he did not brag about his decision and instead elected to pin his withdrawal on an alleged shoulder injury.
The Sudanese athlete’s withdrawal came despite Israel and Sudan normalizing their relationship as part of the Abraham Accords. But as we learned, such agreements cannot rewrite reality completely.
Another example is Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby who refused to shake the hand of Israeli Judoka Ori Sasson at the Rio 2016 Olympics.
So, as we can see, agreements can be made, signed, addressed and spread around, but it makes little to no difference. Because despite it all, the athletes from our allied countries still publicly denounce Israel’s very existence.
This must end. The International Judo Federation has already punished the Iranian federation with a lengthy suspension for a similar case, and now it is the turn of the International Olympic Committee to do the same.
The IOC president, Thomas Bach, already rectified a historical injustice and included a minute of silence for the 11 Israeli victims of the 1972 Munich Games massacre at the opening ceremony in Tokyo. Now is the time to rectify this latest injustice as well.
A boycott of Israel by professional athletes must be met with a permanent suspension, and a warning that a similar move will lead to the expulsion of the boycotter’s entire country at the next Games.