Saudi, Israeli judokas face off in Tokyo, shake hands amid boycott pressure

·2-min read

Amid a week of judo competition overshadowed by political withdrawals, a Saudi Arabian and Israeli jukoda faced off on Saturday, ending speculation that the match would be canceled.

After the match, the judokas shook hands and raised their arms together in the air.

Israel's Raz Hershko defeated Saudi Arabia's Tahani Alqahtani in the over-78kg women's weight class via ippon, a decisive judgment awarded for perfect execution. The two fighters then faced each other and bowed before their mutual show of support.

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That the match took place at all came as a surprise to some. Alqahtani faced pressure to withdraw after a pair of judokas from Arab nations withdrew from earlier Olympic competition rather than face Israeli Tohar Butbul.

On July 23, Algeria's Fethi Nourine withdrew from the 73kg men's competition to avoid a potential match against Butbul, citing his political support for Palestine in its longstanding conflict with Israel. The International Judo Foundation subsequently suspended Butbul and denounced his withdrawal.

"Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport," an IJF statement read

On Monday, Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool weighed in for his match against Butbul, but didn't show up for the bout. Abdalrasool didn't provide a reason for his withdrawal, and the IJF did not comment on it. 

Israel's Raz Hershko (blue) and Saudi Arabia's Tahani Alqahtani compete in the judo women's +78kg elimination round bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 30, 2021. (Photo by Jack GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Raz Hershko, blue, won her bout against and Saudi Arabia's Tahani Alqahtani. (Jack Guez/AFP via Getty Images)

The withdrawals in line with previous international boycotts of Israeli athletes led to speculation that Alqahtani would do the same in solidarity. Per the Arab News, she received support on social media and from home in Saudi Arabia to compete. 

After the match, Hershko told Israel Hayom that the two spoke and shared an embrace away from cameras.

"I'm happy this match took place," Hershko. "After the match, we talked a little in the hall, but she didn't want the media to document it. We shook hands and hugged, we talked about the match, about the situation in her country.

"I told her I understood and that she was brave. I'm happy she eventually stood up despite everything and fought like she should. I'm happy that the sport won out."

Anti-Olympics protest slideshow embed
Anti-Olympics protest slideshow embed

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