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Rio 2016: Egyptian judoka jeered after refusing to shake Israeli opponent’s hand

olympics 2016 Updated: Aug 12, 2016 23:56 IST
Islam El Shehaby

Egypt's Islam El Shehaby, blue, declines to shake hands with Israel's Or Sasson, white.(AP Photo)

Middle Eastern politics spilled onto the judo mat Friday at the Rio Olympics when Islam El Shehaby of Egypt refused to shake hands with his winning opponent, Or Sasson of Israel.

El Shehaby, an ultraconservative Salafi, had come under pressure before the games from Islamist-leaning and nationalist voices in Egypt to withdraw from the first-round heavyweight bout against the Israeli.

With about a minute and a half left in the bout, Sasson earned an automatic victory with two throws of El Shehaby.

The Egyptian lay flat on his back for a moment before rising and standing opposite Sasson in front of the referee. When Sasson extended his hand, El Shehaby backed away, shaking his head.

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The referee called El Shehaby back to the mat and obliged to him to bow; El Shehaby gave a quick nod, and he was loudly booed as he exited.

Competitors typically bow or shake hands at the beginning and end of a match as a sign of respect in the Japanese martial art.

El Shehaby refused to comment, as did Sasson, who moved to the semifinals later Friday to face top-ranked Teddy Riner of France.

Ofir Gendelman, Arabic language spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the incident “shocking.” In a Twitter post, he said it “goes against the spirit of Rio 2016,” writing in Arabic said that “sports are not the field for politics and extremism.”

The International Judo Federation called it a sign a progress that the fight even took place between the two athletes.

“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel,” spokesman Nicolas Messner said in an email. The competitors were under no obligation to shake hands, but a bow is mandatory, he added.

Messner said that even though El Shehaby ultimately bowed, “his attitude will be reviewed after the games to see if any further action should be taken.” He said the ethics commission of judo’s governing body would review the incident after the Olympics.

Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to sign a peace treaty and normalize relations with Israel after decades of war.