UAE officials apologize to Israel for unsportsmanlike behavior during judo tournament

After losing to his Israeli opponent Tohar Butbul during Abu Dhabi's Grand Slam judo tournament, UAE judoka Rashad al-Mashgari refused to shake hands. Yesterday, the International Judo Federation's president announced that the UAE's top judo officials apologized to Israel and "congratulated the Israel team for their success."

Watch: Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul takes home the bronze medal

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On Friday, Israeli judoka Tohar Butbul defeated his UAE opponent, Rashad al-Mashgari, in the first round of the men't lightweight category in Abu Dhabi's Grand Slam. In a snub not unfamiliar to Israeli athletes competing abroad, al-Mashgari refused to shake his hand afterwards. Despite the brush off, Butbul went on to win a bronze medal and told Channel 10 news that he was "proud to represent the country, with a flag, without a flag, [it] doesn't matter."

According to Marius Vizer, the president of the IJF, the UAE's top judo officials reportedly apologized to the head of the Israel Judo Association Moshe Ponte "because of the U.A.E. athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes," declaring it a "gesture of courage." Vizer added that the president of the UAE Judo Federation Mohammad bin Thaloub al Darei and the general secretary of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council Aref al-Awani also "congratulated the Israel team for their success" at the tournament.

Vizer's statement, published on the International Judo Federation website, also addressed the tournament's ban on Israeli symbols: "I consider, that even without the flag and anthem of Israel, that their team have been treated very well with high respect during this event," he said. "Two years ago we achieved the first participation of Israel team in Abu Dhabi, now it's the second time, but with a much better approach and I hope in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.

Israel's judo team has claimed five medals thus far in the tournament, but the victories have been bittersweet; the Israeli athletes were prohibited from displaying any Israeli symbols during the competition. The athletes were made to wear the symbol of the International Judo Federation on their robes instead of the Israeli flag. When Tal Flicker won the gold medal in the U66kg division, the International Judo Federation's anthem was played instead of the Israeli anthem, the HaTikva.

The decision to ban any and all Israeli symbols was initiated by the United Arab Emirates' Judo Association  and approved by the International Judo Federation. The Israel Judo Association said in response that “we are strongly opposed to the mixing of politics and sports and we believe that the sport is supposed to be a battle between people and not the other way around.”



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