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Algerian judo athlete withdraws from Olympics to avoid possible match with Israeli, says he won’t ‘get his hands dirty’

Fethi Nourine, the gold medal winner in this year’s African Judo Championships, withdrew from the Olympics after seeing that the draw set him up to face Israel’s Tohar Butbul in the second round if he won his first match. 

Butbul has a bye in the first round of the 73-kilogram class, while the 30-year-old Nourine was slated to face Mohamed Abdalrasool of Sudan. Abdalrasool wasn’t among the top four finishers in the African Judo Championships. 

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder,” Nourine said of the draw Thursday in an Algerian broadcast interview. He added that he won’t change his mind, citing his support for the Palestinians, and that he won’t “get his hands dirty.”

Nourine was one of three Algerians to take gold in the African Judo Championships, but his coach reportedly found no fault with his decision to quit the Olympics. “We were unlucky with the draw,” coach Amar Ben Yaklif told an Algerian news outlet.

It’s not unprecedented for athletes from predominantly Muslim countries to refuse to compete with Israelis. In fact, Nourine withdrew from the 2019 World Judo Championship in Tokyo to dodge such a match.

The move sounds another Israel-related scandal for an Olympics that’s already dealt with an anti-Semitism row and is teetering on the verge of cancellation because of Covid-19 infections. The contract of Japanese comedian Kentaro Kobayashi, director of the opening and closing ceremonies, was canceled earlier this week, after it came to light that he had done a sketch in 1998 making jokes about the Holocaust. 

The opening ceremony went ahead on Friday and included a moment of silence in remembrance of the 11 Israeli athletes and coaches who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. The gesture marked the first time the victims were honored in an Olympic opening ceremony in the 49 years since they were killed.

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