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24th Jul 2021

Algerian judoka expelled from Olympics after refusing to compete against Israel

Simon Lloyd

Fethi Nourine withdrew after learning he faced a potential second-round tie with an Israeli competitor

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine has been suspended and sent home from the Tokyo Olympics after refusing to compete against an Israeli competitor.

Nourine was set to compete in the first round of the men’s under-73kg judo on Monday. However, after realising that his draw pitted him with a potential matchup with Tohar Butbul of Israel in the second round, he promptly announced his withdrawal, stating his political allegiance to Palestine as the reason.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics,” he said. “But the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this.”

The International Judo Federation responded to Nourine’s withdrawal by suspending both him and his coach Amar Benikhlef.

Benikhlef had told media in Algeria that Nourine had been unfortunate with the draw and that retiring from the competition had been the “right decision”.

An IJF statement condemned the move, describing it as being in “total opposition to our philosophy”.

“The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo,” the statement said, adding that a review to decide on further sanctions beyond the Tokyo Games would now take place. By the time of the statement’s release, the Algerian Olympic Committee had already agreed to send the pair home.

Nourine also withdrew from the 2019 world championships – also held in Tokyo – to avoid fighting an Israeli opponent.

While some events, including the football, started earlier in the week, the Tokyo Olympics officially opened on Friday, with a sombre opening ceremony taking place in the Japanese capital’s Olympic Stadium.

Preparations for the delayed Olympics have been blighted with concerns about rising Covid 19 cases in Japan, with many voicing their opposition to the Games in recent weeks. An anti-Olympics demonstration was held outside the stadium during the opening ceremony.