On Saturday, two Israeli Judoka competitors took home bronze medals in the grand prix competition in the United Arab Emirate (UAE) capital of Abu Dhabi, but were not permitted by the Arab host country to complete under the Israeli flag. Yarden Gerbi and Sagi Muki were forbidden from wearing the flag on their uniforms or flying the flag at the awards ceremony, where it was glaringly absent in contrast with the flags of the other competitors.
Gerbi, a former world champion, was victorious versus her opponent from Holland in the women-under-63kg class. Muki, the current European champion, beat his competitor from Belgium and claimed the bronze in the men-under-73kg class. Both won by throwing their opponent to the ground on their backs, using a technique called an ippon in Judo terminology. Ippon is the highest-ranked scoring technique in the competition.
Both athletes competed under the World Judo Federation flag in lieu of the Israeli flag which they were not allowed to use.
However, this did not stop the competitors from performing at their best. “The moment that I knew that I would not compete under the Israeli flag I had a deep feeling of pain in my heart. As a patriotic Israeli it was hard but when I thought about how important it is to compete, that everyone knows where I’m from, where I grew up, [I realized] that winning for this country is a lot more important than not to compete at all,” said Gerbi after the competition, as reported on news website Arutz 7.
“Even though the Israeli flag wasn’t here I felt that I represented an entire state,” said Muki, according to the site. “When they told me that I can’t compete with the Israeli flag, it only gave me more motivation to show that we can’t be erased, that we will always be the highest possible.”
The UAE had previously banned all Israelis from entrance into the country following an alleged Israeli assassination of Hamas leaders in 2010. The ban included athletes as well as Israelis who hold other passports. Since then, the UAE has maintained formal diplomatic ties with Israel.
Israeli Judo Association head Moshe Ponti told Israeli sports website One that the UAE refused to let the Israeli athletes compete until certain prerequisites were met.
“We went through a series of correspondence and talks with relevant officials in order to come and compete in Abu Dhabi. We got visas on the condition that no stories about this would be published in the Israeli and international media, and this on its own was a hard mission to meet,” said Ponti.
Ponti said he preferred that the team compete without its insignia, rather than give up on the possibility of bringing “a historic medal for the Judo Association and the State of Israel.” This medal and ranking will gain points for both of the competitors to earn a higher rank heading towards the 2016 Olympics in Brazil.
Altogether, eight Israeli Judo athletes competed under the International Judo Federation (IJF) flag, while a ninth, Alice Schlesinger competed under a British flag.
Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) said that she will work towards getting Israel the recognition it deserves in international competitions. In an interview with Army Radio, Regev said, “I plan to fight it. The Israeli team, like any other team in the world, has the right to represent Israel with the flag and national anthem in any competition on any continent. I won’t let this become the norm. When the judo team returns I will figure out what happened there.”
This is the second time in the past six weeks that an Israeli delegation was not allowed to participate under its own flag in an Arab country. The first instance occurred in Oman during a windsurfing competition in September. Israeli windsurfer Maayan Davidovich competed under the International Surfing Association’s RS:X symbol and not under the Israeli flag. Davidovich finished third in the world rankings and also brought home a bronze medal.