An Algerian judoka and his coach have been booted from the Olympics, and suspended by judo’s international governing body, for refusing to compete against an Israeli athlete this week.
The athlete, Fethi Nourine, 30, cited his support for Palestinians as the reason he withdrew from a potential match against Tohar Botbul of Israel.
“My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalization, and if it cost me that absence from the Olympic Games, God will compensate,” Nourine said, according to London-based outlet Middle East Eye.
The International Judo Federation’s (IJF) executive committee announced Saturday they had temporarily suspended both Nourine and coach Amar Benikhlef in wake of his refusal to compete earlier this week.
The federation also said the Algerian Olympic Committee withdrew the accreditation for both the athlete and coach, and would send them home, “applying sanctions accordingly,” but did not elaborate on those sanctions.
“The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo,” the group said in a statement. “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.”
Nourine, who competes in the 161-pound weight division, was scheduled to face Mohamed Abdalrasool of Sudan on Monday in his first bout, with the possibility of battling Israel’s Botbul on Tuesday.
Nourine has a history of refusing to face Botbul, after withdrawing from the 2019 world championships, too.
Algeria could face wider national sanctions from the judo world. Iran was banned from world judo by the IJF for four years in April for refusing to let its athletes compete against opponents from Israel. ‘
The IJF said at the time that it “continues to defend the fundamental human values and rights of all its members, with a special emphasis on the rights of athletes and reiterates its commitment to fight against any form of discrimination in the sport of judo.”
Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby left the 2016 Olympics because he refused to shake hands with Or Sasson, a rival from Israel.
The most recent refusal to compete is “in total opposition to the philosophy of the International Judo Federation,” said the IFJ statement.
“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics… but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this,” Nourine told Algerian television, according the Times of Israel. Nourine added that his decision was “final.”
Algeria does not recognize the state of Israel nor does it allow entry to Israeli passport holders.