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July 26, 2021 2:02 pm

‘Sport is Sport, Not Politics’: Iranian, Israeli Judokas Join in Video Message of Friendship From Tokyo

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avatar by Sharon Wrobel

An Changrim of South Korea in action against Tohar Butbul of Israel in the Tokyo 2020 Olympics judo competition. Photo: Reuters / Sergio Perez

Iranian athlete and judo champion Vahid Sarlak and Israel’s national judo coach Shani Hershko sent a message of friendship in sports from the Olympic Games in Tokyo, as Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul faced a second no-show by a scheduled opponent boycotting the Jewish state.

“I am next to Israeli athletes. I have a great message to you. They really love Iranians. Sports is sports, not about politics,” said Sarlak, sitting side by side and hugging Hershko. “I filmed this to show that world athletes love Iran, whether one is Israeli or Iranian. We are all human beings with one nationality. We have no frontiers among human beings.”

“We like Iranian people. We are friends. We can do many things together, to work together. For me, we are like brothers like one family,” said Hershko, who coaches the women’s judo team. “So I wish one day, I can go to Iran and you can come to Israel, and be our friend. We don’t care about politics here. We care about people, to smile to be happy to do judo and fight on the tatami, then you are friends.”

The video message came as two judokas withdrew from the Tokyo Olympic Games because they did not want to fight against Israeli athlete Tohar Butbul. On Monday, Sudan’s judoka Mohamed Abdalrasool refused to show up for his fight against Butbul in the 73kg category.

Earlier, Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach were suspended by the International Judo Federation and sent home after withdrawing from the Tokyo Olympics event to avoid competing against Butbul. Nourine told Algerian TV that his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against Butbul.

Iran has a history of banning athletes from competing against Israel in international tournaments. Earlier this month, Sarlak told CNN that in the past he was forced to lose matches in order to avoid competing against Israeli opponents.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran wants Iranians to hate Israelis. But many ordinary Iranians & Israelis don’t care about politics,” commented Iranian journalist and activist Masih Alinejad.

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