UPDATED 1:30 p.m. PT: Israeli Judoka Ori Sasson took the bronze after defeating Cuban
An Olympic judo match between Israel and Egypt reached a dramatic ending on Friday after an Egyptian judo fighter Islam El Shehaby was jeered for refusing to shake hands with his Israeli opponent, which is a major breach of judo etiquette.
The International Judo Federation is now looking into the incident in Rio.
Israeli Judoka Ori Sasson defeated Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby with two throws for an automatic victory. But instead of getting up and shaking the hands of his opponents, El Shelby seemed to linger, after his loss. After a while, he finally faced Sasson, who extended his hand — as customary after a match — but El Shehaby backed away shaking his head.
The crowd was clearly not pleased with El Shehaby’s apparent lack of sportsmanship, and loudly booed the Egyptian athlete.
El Shehaby’s refusal to abide by the rules of the sport made headlines around the world, underscoring the fragile peace treaty between the two countries, which was signed in 1979.
What makes El Shelby’s actions so newsworthy is the fact that judo, in particular, is a sport that prides itself on adherence to strict etiquette, manners, and ethics.
According to the International Judo Federation’s website, “Of the many rituals that are a part of judo, perhaps none is clearer and poignant than the bow.” The IJF site goes on to explain that bowing is “a signal of respect. Judo students bow when entering and leaving the dojo.”
The referee did call El Shehaby back to the mat and urged him to bow, as required by the rules. But the Egyptian athlete only managed a quick nod of the head.
The IJF said it will look into the matter after the Olympics are over to determine if any further action will be taken — but insisted the fact that the match even took place was a good sign.
“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to [fight] Israel,” spokesman Nicolas Messner told The Associated Press following the match.
Messier also said that even though El Shehaby did eventually agree to bow, “his attitude will be reviewed after the Games to see if any further action should be taken.”
The incident inevitably made headlines in Israel. Mako, one the country’s leading news sites, reported that El Shehaby has decided to retire from judo following his loss.
El Shehaby had been under intense pressure from Islamists in Egypt to drop out of the Rio Summer Olympics altogether. The day before the fight, a TV host in the country’s Islamist network, Al-Sharq, called on El-Shehaby to withdraw from the Rio Games, or be branded a traitor.
“My son watch out, don’t be fooled, or fool yourself thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy,” he said. “Egypt will cry; Egypt will be sad and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people.”
This isn’t the first time an incident like this has happened.
In 2012, Egyptian judoka Ramadan Darwish refused to shake hands with Arik Zeevi, his Israeli rival, after the Judo Grand Prix in Dusseldorf quarterfinals in Germany. An Egyptian website called him a “national hero.”
Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel after five wars in three decades.
You can watch El Shehaby’s actions in the video above.