Middle East

Rio Olympics: Saudi Judo ‘Athlete’ Drops Out Rather than Face Israeli opponent


Lebanese delegation chief dressed down by Olympic Committee after blocking Israelis from bus to opening ceremony

Saudi Arabian competitor Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round judo match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius at the Rio Olympic Games on Sunday, in what Hebrew media said was a maneuver to avoid facing Israeli judo fighter Gili Cohen in the next round.

The Saudi Olympic team tweeted that Fahmy had sustained injuries to her arm and leg during training and was advised by medical staff not to compete, the Hebrew language Ynet news site reported. According to Channel 2, Fahmy was not hurt, but simply dropped out to avoid competing against the Israeli judoka.

Cohen then lost to Legentil in a brief second-round bout later in the day.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize Israel, though an ex-Saudi general led a delegation to Jerusalem two weeks ago, and met with Israeli officials and politicians, in the latest of a series of conciliatory moves. A former Israeli cabinet minister who met the visiting group said at the weekend that normal ties between the two countries might not be too far away.

Minutes before Cohen’s loss, Israeli judoka Golan Pollack was also eliminated, just over a minute into his opening match against Zambian Mathews Punza, in a major upset.

Punza managed to get the heavily favored Pollack on the floor and hold him there, clinching the requisite 100 points and moving to the next round.

The loss for Pollack continued Israel’s poor showing thus far in the Rio Games.

Also Sunday, the head of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee was summoned by the Games’ organizers for a dressing down, following a kerfuffle with the Israeli delegation after the two teams were told to share a bus to the opening ceremony Friday night.

The Lebanese delegation refused to allow the Israeli players to board the bus, leading to a spat that injected politics into the Games’ opening.

Eventually, organizers put Israel on a separate bus.

The Lebanese delegation was cautioned not to repeat any such behavior, a warning likely also directed at other teams which do not recognize Israel and chafe at having to share sporting space with the Jewish state.

The Lebanese official, for his part, claimed the tiff was a misunderstanding, according to reports in Israeli media.

Saleem a-Haj Nacoula, the head of the Lebanese delegation, had told Lebanese media on Saturday that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” as they insisted on boarding the same bus.

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