Israeli judoka Tal Flicker won gold medal at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam on Thursday. The Israeli martial artist achieved an Ippon, the highest score a fighter can achieve, 25 seconds before the end of his bout with his Azeri opponent, bronze medal world champion Nijat Shikhalizada.
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No Israeli flag was flown at the podium on Thursday, after the United Arab Emirate hosts forbade any representation of the Israeli team's nationality, something that the hosts claimed was done for their own safety. Israelis competed under similar conditions during the same event held two years ago in Abu Dhabi.
"I am very happy to be here - with a flag without a flag, for us it is to bring the athletes to these levels and to prove to everyone that it is impossible to stop the State of Israel," said the Israeli team trainer Oren Smadja after Flicker's victory. Flicker's victory was in the under 66kg (132 lb.) weight category, and comes on the back of a bronze medal win at the World Judo Championships in Budapest in August.
Israeli judoka Gili Cohen was the second Israeli team member to win a medal at the tournament in her wieght category, for fighters up to 52kg. Cohen won the bronze medal after beating Joana Ramos of Portugal, the bronze medalist of the European Championship.
The letter from the International Judo Federation, or IJF, to the president of the UAE Judo Federation was obtained by The Associated Press. It said “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, shall be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”
The letter also says that the IJF statutes “clearly provide that the IJF shall not discriminate on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion.”
The World Jewish Congress sent a letter to the IJF president, Marius Vizer, last week requesting that he intervene. Its CEO and executive vice president, Robert Singer, asked Vizer to “protect the rights of the Israeli national judo team and keep the spirit of sport free of political discrimination.”
The 12 Israelis participating in the two-day tournament arrived in the United Arab Emirates one day later than planned, on Tuesday, due to problems with their visas. UAE and Israel do not have diplomatic relations.
Israel’s delegation will include Or Sasson, who won a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics in 2016. During those games, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with Sasson.