Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine has withdrawn from the Olympic Games in Tokyo in order to avoid the possibility of playing against an Israeli opponent. Nourine was set to face Sudanese judoka Mohamed Abdalrasool on Monday in his first bout, and would have taken on Israeli Tohar Butbul in the next round of the men's 73kg division.
"We were not lucky with the draw," explained Nourine's coach Amar Ben Yaklif to Algerian TV. "We got an Israeli opponent and that's why we had to retire. We made the right decision."
Nourine also refused to play against Butbul in 2019 when he pulled out of the Judo World championships. He said that his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against an Israeli.
"We worked a lot to reach the Olympics," he said, "but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this." The decision, he added, is "final".
This is not the first time that politics and the Olympics have collided. At the 2004 games in Athens, the then Iranian world champion Arash Mirasmaeili refused to fight Israeli judoka Ehud Vaks, earning praise from Tehran. At Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was sent home after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson when their bout ended.