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Algerian quits Olympics rather than take on Israeli in judo match

It was the second time Fethi Nourine refused to fight the same Israeli athlete.
Image: Tokyo 2020 Olympics -  Judo - Training Sessions
Technicians work on the mat in Nippon Budokan Arena, during judo training sessions in Tokyo on Thursday.Sergio Perez / Reuters

TOKYO — An Algerian judo competitor has chosen to ditch the Tokyo Olympics rather than hit the mat with an Israeli.

It was the second time in two years that ninth-ranked Fethi Nourine withdrew from a major judo competition rather than take on sixth-ranked Israeli Tohar Butbul.

Nourine and his coach, Amar Benikhlef, told Algerian media that they were boycotting Butbul to support the Palestinians.

“My position of the Palestinian issue is firm,” Nourine said on Thursday. “I will not recognize the Israeli flag, and I will not get my hands dirty with it.”

Benikhlef said “we were not lucky with the draw.”

“We got an Israeli opponent, and that’s why we had to retire,” the coach said. “We made the right decision.”

Judo competitor Fethi Nourine of Algeria.Reuters file

There has been no official response from the Israelis, but the International Judo Federation quickly slapped Nourine and his coach with a temporary suspension and said both could face more sanctions after the games are over.

“These actions were taken based on the official recorded declarations of both Fethi Nourine and Amar Benikhlef, that were published in the media and that are in total opposition to the philosophy of the International Judo Federation,” the organization said in a statement. “The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo.”

In response, the Algerian Olympic committee withdrew both men’s accreditation and made plans to send them home.

Nourine had faced a possible second round matchup on Monday with Butbul in the 73K division. His first round opponent was Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool.

Two years ago, Nourine pulled out of the 2019 Judoka World Championships when he was pitted against Butbul.

The Algerian’s refusal to compete with Butbul for a second time came on the same day the director of the Tokyo Olympics’ opening ceremony was fired for making a Holocaust joke during a comedy show back in 1998.

During the ceremony Friday, the organizers paused to remember the nine members of the Israeli team who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich, Germany.

It’s not the first time that Israeli judo competitors have been shunned by rivals from Arab states.

Back in 2016, at the games in Brazil, an Egyptian who later quit the sport refused to shake the hand of an Israeli who had just defeated him.

And in April, the IJF hit the Iranian Judo Federation with a four-year ban for demanding that its athletes refuse to fight Israeli opponents.