Egyptian Judoka Booed In Rio For Refusing Israeli Opponent’s Handshake

Cierra Bailey
An Egyptian judo fighter is facing heavy criticism for refusing to shake hands with his Israeli opponent following their Olympic match on Friday.

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Egyptian Judo fighter Islam El Shehaby pulled a major taboo in the Rio Olympics by refusing to shake hands with Israel’s Or Sasson, Mashable reports.

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El Shehaby was booed by the crowd of spectators when he went against traditional judo etiquette and declined Sasson’s gesture at the end of their match. Sasson had just defeated El Shehaby in the first round.

Judo fighters typically bow or shake hands at the beginning and end of a match as a sign of respect. El Shehaby didn’t back down, even after the referee called him back to the mat — he simply gave a quick head nod before stepping off the floor again.

According to the International Judo Federation, the fight itself was a huge sign of progress. "This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel," spokesman Nicolas Messner reportedly said in an email.

Messner also noted that although it is customary, there is no obligation to shake hands. Bowing, on the other hand, is mandatory.

Although handshaking wasn’t required, El Shehaby’s demeanor was deemed unsportsmanlike.

“That is extremely rare in judo,” the American coach Jimmy Pedro reportedly said. “It is especially disrespectful considering it was a clean throw and a fair match. It was completely dishonorable and totally unsportsmanlike on the part of the Egyptian.”

Unrelated conflicts should be put to the side during the Olympics, such as in the way that two gymnasts from North and South Korea did by taking an iconic selfie together.

Messner added that even though El Shehaby technically followed the rules by bowing, “His attitude will be reviewed after the games to see if any further action should be taken.”

El Shehaby isn’t the first in this year’s Olympics to have a dispute with an Israeli opponent. A Saudi female judo player forfeited a match on Tuesday due to an “injury,” but according to The New York Times, several Israeli news outlets reported that she backed out because she would have been up against an Israeli in the next round.

It is more disheartening than anything to see the strong animosity between these rival countries play out in this way.

These Olympians who have been chosen to represent their countries are faced with the difficult decision to either remain neutral and risk appearing traitorous to their fans at home, or take the route that El Shehaby has and risk their reputation for seeming unsportsmanlike. 

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