Tension Between Israel and Egypt Comes to a Boil in Olympics

The Olympic athlete approached his opponent in a sportsmanship-like gesture extending his hand, but the other man turned his back.

The boos began to rain down. Or Sasson, a medal contender who is from Israel, had just beaten Islam El Shehaby from Egypt in a judo match during the early rounds of the Olympic competition before a packed house of spectators. When the match concluded El Shahaby would not shake Sasson’s hand.

The match referee forced the Egyptian athlete to bow and El Shehaby did so, but when that took place, the Israeli athlete had already left.

El Shehaby would not stop for interviews and the IOC has announced it will look into the incident.

An IOC spokesperson said that the Olympic movement is about building bridges not walls and there is no excuse for what took place.

A spokesperson for Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel tweeted that the situation was shocking and wrote that sports are not the place for extremism and politics.

This is just the latest episode of tension in sports between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Last Sunday, Joud Fahmy a Saudi Arabian forfeited her match in the first round against Mauritius’ Christianne Legentil, with some speculating she wanted to avoid a possible match in the following round with Gili Cohen from Israel.

The Saudi team said that their athlete was injured.

The incident came only two days after the Lebanon and Israeli teams had to share a bus following the Open Ceremonies, but the Lebanese delegation would not board the bus.

Back in 2011, an Egyptian judoka refused to shake the hand of his counterpart, who was Israeli, which is customary for the sport. He refused once again the following year.

Sasson was pleased on Friday as he won bronze in the competition, which gave the country just its 9th overall Olympic medal.

However, following his bronze medal winning match, even amidst the celebration, the conversation did not stray from El Shehaby’s actions.

Nationalist and Islamic groups had pressured El Shehaby not to take part at all.

Others may not agree with what El Shehaby did, but respect his decision. They know the pressure he had been under to not fight, but he did nonetheless and could face even more problems up his return to his home country.

Sporting spirit in the Olympics is the norm, but across the Middle East, anger between countries can be so deep that even sporting spirit cannot overcome it.

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