Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine withdrew from the Olympics on Thursday. The reason has nothing to do with COVID-19 but stemmed from his unwillingness to fight an opponent from Israel.
Nourine pulled himself from the Games once he found out he was slated to face Tohar Butbul, an Israeli judoka, in the second round of the tournament. Citing his own political support for Palestine, Nourine said he did not want to “get his hands dirty,” facing Butbul.
“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder,” Nourine told an Algerian TV station, according to CBC.ca.
“We were not lucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision,” Nourine’s coach Amar Ben Yaklif said, via The Israeli Times.
This is not the first time that Nourine has withdrawn from a match when he was about to face an Israeli opponent. Two years ago, he pulled out of the 2019 Judoka World Championships when he was also matched up against Butbul.
Discrimination against Israelis increasingly has become an issue in the sport. Iran is currently facing a four-year ban after an Iranian judoka told the International Judo Federation that he threw matches in order to not face Israeli opponents.
It is also not the first case of anti-semitism at the Olympics. In the 2016 Rio Olympics, Egyptian Islamjudoka El Shehaby was sent home by the International Olympic Committee after he refused to shake hands with Or Sasson, an Israeli, following Shehaby’s defeat. Sasson eventually went on to win the Bronze.
Butbul will now face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalarasool in his first fight.