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Algeria: Athlete withdraws from Olympics to avoid facing Israeli opponent

'My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalisation,' says Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine
Fethi Nourine also pulled out of the 2019 Judo World Championships in Tokyo for the same reason (Screengrab/Twitter)

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine has withdrawn from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics in order to avoid facing an Israeli competitor.

Nourine, who was set to compete in the men’s under 73kg judo competition, announced his decision on Thursday, one day before the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony.  

The 30-year-old athlete was set to fight Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool on 26 July in the first round. If he won, he would proceed to a potential clash with Israel’s Tohar Butbul. 

Nourine spoke to local Algerian media on his withdrawal, saying that his support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against Butbul. 

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 "We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that.

"My position is consistent on the Palestinian issue, and I reject normalisation, and if it cost me that absence from the Olympic Games, God will compensate,” he said.

The athlete’s coach, Amar Ben Yaklif, told the media, “We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.” 

This is not the first time Nourine has withdrawn from competition to avoid facing an Israeli opponent. In 2019 he pulled out of the Judo World Championships in Tokyo for the same reason. Several Iranian judoka followed suit, triggering strong protests at the time.

During the 2016 Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby left the competition because he refused to shake hands with a rival from Israel.

Algeria does not officially recognise the State of Israel and refuses entry to any person holding an Israeli passport.

The 2020 summer Olympics were postponed in March last year, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. They will now take place from 23 July to 8 August in Toky0, Japan. 

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