Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine has withdrawn from the 2020 Summer Olympics in the Japanese capital city of Tokyo, after the draw set him on course for a possible showdown against an Israeli opponent.
The 30-years-old athlete made the decision to pull out of the international multi-sport event on Thursday, a day before the games are set to officially open.
Nourine took the measure after he was drawn earlier in the day to face Israeli competitor Tohar Butbul in the second round of the under-73kg men’s judo competition, if he were to advance past his first fight.
The Algerian judoka was set to face Sudanese counterpart Mohamed Abdalrasool on Monday for his first bout.
Nourine said his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against an Israeli opponent.
“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics… but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this,” he told an Algerian television station late on Thursday, adding that his decision was “final.”
Nourine’s coach Amar Ben Yaklif also said, “We were not lucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”
The Tokyo Olympics is scheduled to be held from July 23 to August 8. Some preliminary events kicked off on July 21.
The games will see karate, sport climbing, surfing, and skateboarding make their Olympic debuts.
It is not the first time that Nourine has withdrawn from competition to avoid facing an Israeli opponent.
Back in 2019, he withdrew from the Judo World Championships in Tokyo when he was also drawn to face Butbul.
At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shahaby quit the games, just hours after refusing to shake the hand of his victorious Israeli rival Or Sasson in the first round of the men’s over-100kg competition.
Last April, the International Judo Federation (IJF) imposed a four-year ban against the Islamic Republic of Iran Judo Federation (IRIJF) over Tehran’s demands that Iranian athletes refuse to face Israeli opponents since the Islamic Republic strongly supports the Palestinian cause and does not recognize Israel.