Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby has been sent home from the Rio Olympics after refusing to shake the hand of Israeli Or Sasson after the end of their bout, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said.
El Shehaby, who was sent home by his own team, lost the fight on Friday and was reprimanded by the IOC for his actions.
The athlete said he did not want to shake hands with an Israeli, nor was he obliged to do so under judo rules, but the IOC said his behaviour went against the rules and spirit of the Olympic Games and the rules of fair play.
“The Disciplinary Commission (DC) considered that his behaviour at the end of the competition was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic Values,” the IOC said in a statement.
“The DC issued a ‘severe reprimand for inappropriate behaviour’ to the athlete. It noted … the shaking of hands after a match is not in the competition rules of the International Judo Federation.
“As well as a severe reprimand, the DC has asked the Egyptian Olympic Committee to ensure in future that all their athletes receive proper education on the Olympic Values before coming to the Olympic Games.”
After Sasson defeated El Shehaby and the pair retook their places in front of the referee, the Egyptian backed away when Sasson bowed and approached him to shake hands.
When called back by the referee to bow, El Shehaby gave a quick nod before walking off amid loud boos from the crowd.
“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules,” El Shehaby said after his bout. “It happens between friends and he’s not my friend. I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs.
“But for personal reasons, you can’t ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this State, especially in front of the whole world.”
El Shehaby, 32, had reportedly been pressured by fans on social media not to show up for the match with his Israeli opponent, who went on to win bronze in the 100kg category, because it would shame Islam.
“El Shehaby was told earlier to maintain good sportmanship throughout the match with the Israeli player,” the Egyptian Olympic Committee said in a statement.
“This is an international competition after all, and simply a game of judo. What happened after the game and his refusal to shake hands was his personal action.”
This is not the first time athletes from Arab nations or Iran have had difficulties with Israeli athletes in the Olympics or other international competitions.
At the 2004 Athens Olympics, then Iranian world champion Arash Miresmaeili refused to fight Israeli judoka Ehud Vaks, earning praise back home.
Egyptian IOC President Hisham Hatab blamed media pressure for El Shehaby’s reaction.
“The fighter hesitated between competing or withdrawing. That’s why he was nervous,” Hatab told AFP news agency.
“Egyptian media pressure was huge on him before the bout. People were waiting to see if would fight or not. We tried to relax him but we couldn’t.”