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UAE judo contest back on after it lifts ban on Israeli flag

International Judo Federation had barred Abu Dhabi from hosting event after Israeli anthem and flag were banned at last year's competition
Israeli judoka Tal Flicker, left, competes against Nijat Shikhalizada of Azerbaijan in the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam (AFP)

A judo competition set to be held in the United Arab Emirates was reinstated on Monday after the Gulf country agreed to allow the Israeli judo team to display its flag and for its competitors to sing the national anthem.

Set to take place between 25 and 27 October, the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam was suspended in July after the International Judo Federation (IJF) announced that both the UAE and Tunisia would be barred from hosting international tournaments if they could not guarantee equal treatment for Israeli competitors.

According to the Times of Israel, the IJF said in a statement that it was “pleased to announce that... the UAE Judo Federation confirmed in an official letter sent to the IJF that all nations participating in the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam will have the possibility to do so in equal conditions".

“The historic decision will thus allow all nations to display their national insignia and national anthem, including Israel,” the statement added.

During last year’s competition in Abu Dhabi, Israeli athletes were not allowed to display Israeli symbols, and competed under the IJF flag.

Emirati judoka Rashad Almashjari also refused to shake hands with his Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul ahead of a match. UAE sports officials later apologised.  

International sporting events have often been grounds for public boycotts of Israel, through denying visas to Israeli competitors or athletes saying they will not play against Israeli counterparts.

Gulf countries have long refused to recognise Israel, but in recent years there have been signs of quiet rapprochement, particularly since President Donald Trump, a staunch Israel supporter, took office.

Trump prompted outrage in December when his administration recognised Jerusalem as the exclusive capital of Israel. Last Friday, he announced that the US will cut all US funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Reports emerged on Saturday that Gulf countries would help fill the gap left by the US decision under new guidelines set out by the Trump administration.

But it remains unclear which Gulf countries have agreed to plug UNRWA's funding deficit.