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Algerian Judoka withdraws from Tokyo Olympics to avoid facing Israeli opponent

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Fethi Nourine was likely to face Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the men’s 73 kg catergoy.

Opening Ceremony - Olympics: Day 0
The Algerian team during the Tokyo 2020 opening ceremony.
Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

According to CNN Fethi Nourine, a judoka representing Algeria at the Tokyo Olympics, has withdrawn from competition in order to avoid facing Israeli athlete Tohar Butbul.

Nourine was scheduled to face Mohamed Abdalrasool from Sudan in Round 64 of the 73 kg competition. If he would have beaten Abdalrasool he would have faced Butbul next.

Nourine spoke to Algerian outlet Echourouk TV about his decision to remove himself from the competition.

“I decided to withdraw out of conviction, because this is the very least we can offer the Palestinian cause. This is my duty. My goal in withdrawing is to send a message to the whole world that Israel is an occupation, a lawless country, a country without a flag.”

Israeli athletes are no stranger to having potential opponents pull out, forfeit or even lose on purpose to avoid facing them in international competition. Most of these incidents in recent years have involved athletes from Iran.

A number of Iranian athletes have gone to great lengths to avoiding Israeli opponents. Often, it is alleged, that these athletes have been forced to do this by Iranian politicians and sporting officials.

In 2019 Saeid Mollaei was representing Iran at the Judo World Championships. In the semi-finals of the 81 kg category Mollaei lost to Belgium’s Matthias Casse. This meant he could not progress to the final to face Sagi Muki of Israel.

Mollaei would later state that he tried to defeat Casse to set up a match with the Israeli despite his coaches telling him to lose on purpose. Mollaei also claimed that his coaches received calls from Iran’s Sport Minister and a member of Iran’s National Olympic Committee demanding that Mollaei lose. It is also claimed that, during those calls, it was made clear that Iranian National Security officers had visited Mollaei’s parents’ house.

After the World Championships Mollaei was granted asylum in Germany. He was later given Mongolian citizenship. Mollaei is currently representing Mongolia in Tokyo.

Iran’s practise of avoiding Israeli opponents in judo was punished by the International Judo Federation, who handed that country an indefinite ban from international competition. That ban was later struck down after Iran appealed the sanction with the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

After that decision the IJF handed Iran a back-dated four year ban. That ban does not prevent Iran from fielding Judokas in Tokyo.