Israel claims first Olympic medal in eight years, alongside reported hostility

By August 12 2016, 15:04 Latest News No Comments

JudoIsrael won its first Olympic medal since 2008 this week, when Yarden Gerbi claimed a bronze medal in the women’s under-63 kilogram judo competition at the Rio games.

After making her way through the heats, semi and quarter finals she came up agains Miku Tashiro of Japan in the battle for bronze, registering both a yuko and a waza-ari, she claimed her place as a bronze Olympic medallist. With swimming, badminton and sailing, which has previously been a strong sport for Israel, still ongoing this may not be the only medal the Israeli team wins during the tournament.

The last Israeli medal was eight years ago, when Shahar Tzuberi won bronze for Israel in the 2008 Olympic sailing hosted by China.

Alongside this victory however, were reports of hostility faced by the Israeli Olympic team, from other Middle Eastern delegations.

This week, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reprimanded the head of the Lebanese Olympic team over an incident at the Rio opening ceremony. Lebanese athletes had refused to share a bus with their Israeli opponents on the journey to start of the Rio games last weekend with the head of the Lebanese team Salim al-Haj Nicolas blocking the door. Wanting to avoid a incident the organisers moved the Israeli team to their own bus.

Udi Gal, a member of Israel’s Olympic sailing team spoke on Facebook about the incitement, stating: “The organisers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus”. He added: “How could they let this happen on the eve of the Olympic Games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represents?”.

Following a hearing on the matter, the IOC issued a warning to Salim al-Haj Nicolas, head of the Lebanese Olympic team, saying that they would not accept any further altercations towards Israel.

Days later, Saudi Arabia forfeited a first-round judo match in what the Israeli press described as a tactic to avoid facing Israel’s Gili Cohen in the second round. The Saudi team disputed the charge, insisting on Twitter that the competitor Joud Fahmy had sustained injuries to her arms and legs during training.

Prejudice against Israel has again been highlighted as an Egyptian judoka has faced pressure from Egyptians on social media not to show up for his scheduled Friday afternoon fight against an Israeli contender at the Olympics in Rio. According to reports, in spite of repeated assertions from the chairman of the Egyptian Olympic Committee that Islam El Shehaby will appear on the mat for his slated match against Israeli judoka Or Sasson – going as far as to warn the athlete that, if he fails to do so, his Egyptian citizenship will be revoked – calls from fans on Facebook and Twitter for him to shun the fight have been intensifying.

El Shehaby, who is known for his extreme anti-Israel views, told Egyptian media outlets that he would make his decision closer to the fight: “The situation is very sensitive…I don’t want to discuss it”.

This is not the only occasion for where athletes have refused to compete in events involving Israelis. Heading back to June, the Syrian boxer Ala Ghasoun refused to participate in an Olympic qualifying match against an Israeli. According Jerusalem i24 news, Mr. Ghasoun told local media that competing against Israel “would mean that I, as an athlete, and Syria, as a state, recognise the state of Israel”.  He added: “I quit the competition because my rival was Israeli, and I cannot shake his hand or compete against him while he represents a Zionist regime that kills the Syrian people”.

Looking back to the previous Olympic games in London 2012, Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoud withdrew from a match against Israeli Arik Ze’evi. Mr. Mahjoud claimed he pulled out due to health concerns, however he previously admitted to throwing matches to avoid facing athletes from Israel, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Compared to the horror of the 1972 Munich Olympics where 11 Israeli athletes were kidnapped and killed by Palestinian terrorists, these events may appear to seem only minor. However, they highlight how Israelis still face a stigma on the international stage, both politically and in the sporting world.

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