A Saudi Arabian female judoka, Tahani Alqahtani, has bucked the trend of Muslim athletes refusing to face Israelis by fighting the Israeli judoka Raz Hershko.
Alqahtani also shook hands with the Israeli after losing her bout yesterday in Tokyo.
The International Judo Federation praised the Saudi Olympian, saying her actions demonstrated that sports can bring people together.
They said: “For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it was announced prior to the Games that Saudi Arabia earned a last-minute wildcard to participate in the competition in the women’s +78kg with Tahani Alqahtani. After the official draw, she discovered that her first round would be against Raz Hershko from Israel. Immediately questions arose that were answered today in the most humanist and respectful way, by two athletes representing their two delegations.
“With what happened today at the Nippon Budokan, once again judo makes history and helps to build a better world, where respect is the core value of human relations. Saudi Arabia proves that, through sport, we can go beyond differences and make sport a force to unite the world…
“The match between Tahani Alqahtani and Raz Hershko took place and that represents a massive step forward that proves respect and friendship while showing that sport can transcend any political or exterior influence.”
Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have formal relations, although the two states have grown closer in recent years due to their perceived interests in countering Iran. Saudi Arabia’s Gulf allies the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain both normalized their ties with Israel last year.
Last week two Muslim judokas from Algeria and Sudan failed to show for their bouts against an Israeli opponent.
The Algerian, Fathi Noreen, told 5Pillars he would withdraw from the Olympics 1,000 times again so long as the world realises the nature of the Israeli occupier.