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Tokyo Olympics: Algerian athlete gets 10-year suspension for 'malicious' pro-Palestine withdrawal

Fethi Nourine, who refused to face an Israeli competitor in Tokyo, is penalised for using the Olympics as a 'platform for propaganda', says International Judo Federation
Algeria's Fethi Nourine has received a 10-year suspension from the International Judo Federation for his withdrawal from the Tokyo Olympics to avoid facing an Israeli competitor (Reuters)

An Algerian athlete has received a 10-year suspension from the International Judo Federation (IJF) following his refusal to face an Israeli competitor at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

Fethi Nourine, 30, and his coach Amar Benikhlef, have been banned from participating in any activities or competitions organised by the body for 10 years, the judo body told Middle East Eye on Friday.

'It is evident that the two Algerian Judoka with malicious intent have used the Olympic Games as a platform for protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda'

- International Judo Federation 

The IJF accused the Algerians of using the international sporting event as a "platform for propaganda", and of doing so "with malicious intent".

"For the IJF disciplinary commission, it is evident that the two Algerian Judoka with malicious intent have used the Olympic Games as a platform for protest and promotion of political and religious propaganda, which is a clear and very serious breach of the IJF statutes, the IJF code of ethics and the Olympic Charter," the IJF said in a statement.

"Therefore, no other penalty than a severe suspension can be imposed in this case."

"On these grounds, the IJF disciplinary commission pronounces against Nourine and Benikhlef ten (10) years suspension each from all events and activities organised or authorised by the International Judo Federation and its unions, started from 23 July 2021 until 23 July 2031."

The decision "has immediate effect" and is subject to appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the statement added.

Before Friday's statement, both Nourine and Benkhlef had already been placed under temporary suspension by the IJF.

'I reject normalisation'

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

The athlete was set to fight Sudan's Mohamed Abdalrasool on 26 July in the first round. If he won, he would have proceeded to a potential clash with Israel's Tohar Butbul. 

Nourine said his support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against Butbul. 

"We have worked hard to qualify for the Games, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all that," he told local Algerian media at the time.

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"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."

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

Algeria’s minister of youth and sports has described the sanction imposed on Nourine and Benikhlef as “very unfair” and promised to appeal against the IJF’s decision.

"I asked the president of the Algerian Olympic and Sports Committee (COA) to initiate the necessary procedures to lodge an appeal against this decision and to try to alleviate the sanction as far as possible and thus recover our hero Fethi Nourine,” Abderrezak Sebgag told local media on Wednesday from Algiers International Airport, where a reception was held for an Algerian delegation returning from the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo.

Upholding his cause

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.

He is also not the first Olympian to refuse association with an Israeli opponent. During the 2016 Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam el-Shehaby left the competition because he refused to shake hands with a rival from Israel.

In response to Nourine's latest withdrawal, IJF announced in July that both Nourine and Benikhlef would face disciplinary action, as their action was “in total opposition to the philosophy” of the federation.

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“The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle, reinforced by the values of judo,” the body said in a statement released on 24 July.

Its executive committee had formed an investigative commission that decided on the temporary suspension of Nourine and his coach.

The case would also be assigned to the disciplinary commission of the IJF for further investigation, judgement and final sanctioning.

The IJF said it acted according to its rules, "in line with the Olympic Charter and especially with rule 50.2... which provides for the neutrality of the Games [and] which states that 'no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas'".