Israeli athletes participating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament in less than two weeks will not be permitted to sport any of the country's insignia, the contest's organizing committee announced to the Israeli Judo Association.
This marks the second time an Abu Dhabi tournament does not allow Israeli athletes to be adorn with the flag, the first incident taking place two years ago.
A delegation of no less than 12 sportspeople is expected to attend the prominent tournament, held October 26–28. Among the Israelis set to participate in the contest are Rio Olympics bronze medalist Ori Sasson, reigning European champion Sagi Muki, World Championship bronze medalist Tal Flicker, Gili Cohen and Shira Rishony.
Should one of the aforementioned athletes win a medal in the tournament, however, the Israeli flag will not be hoisted during the medal ceremony, as is the custom, replaced instead with a flag of the International Judo Federation. Moreover, even if one of the Israelis wins a gold medal, the Israeli anthem will not be played.
Sports Minister Miri Regev was reportedly infuriated at the decision, speaking at length with Chairman of the Israeli Judo Association Moshe Ponte. After the conversation, she sent an emergency missive Monday morning to President of the International Judo Federation Marius Vizer, demanding the organizers' decision to discriminate against the Israeli athletes be revoked.
"I was surprised to learn that members of the Israeli delegation will not be permitted to appear in this important competition with the symbols of our country's identity. This demand goes beyond the mandate of international sport federations, defined mainly by kicking politics out of sports and strengthening the same as an inclusive factor that bridges between nations, cultures and countries.
"It is both the right and the privilege of any country who wins a bid to host an international competition to allow the athletes competing in it to represent their country with dignity and safeguard their well-being. It's also the duty of international associations to demand this of host countries as part of the prerequisites to hosting an exclusive tournament," Regev's letter said.
"As you well know, it was only last week that Israeli judokas Ori Sasson and Sagi Muki win gold medals at the Grand Prix Championship held in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Despite the fact the contest was held in a Muslim country, the Israeli flag flew high and proud, waving to the sounds of the Israeli anthem as is the custom in any competition," Regev further wrote Vizer.
"This should also be the case in Abu Dhabi, and anywhere else for that matter. With their personal accomplishments, Israeli athletes, just like athletes representing any country, stand for the country and society that sent them. Any attempt to mix political aspects with sports is wrong. It should be denounced forcefully and any excuse supporting it should be rejected, including supposed security concerns," Regev concluded in her letter.
The Israeli Judo Association also weighed in on the controversy. "As was the case two years ago in Abu Dhabi, the Israeli Judo Association assumes the Israeli delegation will once again be denied competing under the Israeli national flag. This assumption follows a conversation that Israeli Judo Association Chairman Moshe Ponte held with the International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer."
"The Israeli Judo Association severely objects to mixing politics and sports and believes the latter are intended to bring people together, rather than push them apart. On Thursday, Ponte will be meeting Vizer in order to change the Abu Dhabi organizing committee's decision.
"We will not consent to being dragged into the political arena or awarding anyone who wishes we'd refrain from appearing on the international stage. Our goal is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and the competitions held beforehand are the means towards achieving that goal. Some would like nothing more than to sabotage that and would be pleased to see Israelis not appearing in the Olympics, but we won't allow them to get in our way."