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July 30, 2021 11:28 am
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Saudi Judoka Ignores Pressure to Forfeit Match Against Israeli, Praised as ‘Brave’ by Opponent

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Saudi Arabia’s Tahani Alqahtani (left) and Israel’s Raz Hershko compete in the first round of the women’s judo over 78-kilogram category at the Tokyo Olympics on July 30, 2021, at Nippon Budokan. Photo: Reuters/Kyodo News.

Saudi Olympian Tahani al-Qahtani faced Israel’s Raz Hershko in the women’s judo 78kg category at the Olympic Games on Friday, despite facing some pressure to follow the lead of several other athletes who have refused to compete against Israeli competitors.

After Hershko won the bout, the athletes shook hands and then raised them in the air as a show of solidarity before leaving the floor.

The Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee supported al-Qahtani’s decision to compete in the bout and wished her luck on Twitter before the match took place.

Hershko applauded her Saudi opponent for putting the sport before any political differences. “I’m happy this match took place,” she said, as reported by Israel Hayom. “After the match, we talked a little in the hall, but she [Al-Qahtani] didn’t want the media to document it. We shook hands and hugged, we talked about the match, about the situation in her country. I told her I understood, and that she was brave. I’m happy she eventually stood up, despite everything, and fought like she should. I’m happy that the sport won out.”

Hershko was eliminated from the Olympics later on Friday after losing to Japanese judoka Akira Sona.

The Israel-Saudi Arabia match came after Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine was temporarily suspended by the Algerian Olympic Committee and sent home from the Olympic Games, for refusing to compete in a Saturday bout that would have later paired him with Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the men’s 73kg category. Nourine cited his support for the Palestinian cause for not competing against Israeli athletes, and had pulled out of the 2019 World Championships in Tokyo for the same reason.

On Monday, Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool did not show up for his own bout against Butbul, despite having already weighed in. The Sudanese athlete was also ordered to leave the Olympic Games after withdrawing from his match-up.

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