From October 26 to 28, the “Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam” took place in the city of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The UAE, like the majority of Muslim-majority countries in the region, has no diplomatic relations with Israel and is outright hostile toward the Jewish people. Unsurprisingly, and despite warnings from the International Jewish Federation, the UAE decided to act in an egregiously discriminatory manner toward the twelve athletes competing for Israel at the international competition. Event authorities prevented the Israeli athletes from having the Israeli flag emblazoned on their judo uniforms and instead forced them to compete under the flag of the International Judo Federation for “security reasons.” It is important to note here that no other country sending athletes to the event was subject to these discriminatory restrictions.
Despite the blatant anti-Semitic treatment from their hosts, the twelve Israeli judoka not only represented their country with class and dignity in trying circumstances, but also by bringing home five medals [PDF version].1
The highlight of the event came from the talented judoka Tal Flicker, who competes in the under 66 kg division. Flicker captured Gold, but unsurprisingly, found himself standing under the flag of the International Judo Federation instead of Israel when he took to the top step of the podium. Adding to the disgraceful conduct of his hosts, the anthem of the International Judo Federation played instead of that of his own country. However, after triumphing over his opponents to claim Gold, Flicker triumphed over his hosts by singing his own Hatikava while the Judo Federation anthem played. You may watch the video of the event below:2
After the event, Flicker explained his decision in a video that has been posted on YouTube by the Israel Project:
The video is worth watching in full, but here is an excerpt from Flicker's poignant explanation of his stand on the podium:
“The anthem of the world championship which was played was just background noise, in my heart I sang the national anthem, I'm proud of my country. The whole world knows we are from Israel, and who we are representing.”
Tal Flicker showed remarkable skill in competition and grace and character once the competition was completed. Israelis and supporters of Israel worldwide are deservedly praising his performance and overall conduct.
Tal Flicker and his eleven compatriots competing in Abu Dhabi did the most difficult work of achieving results while being targeted by event organizers for discrimination. In advance of the competition, the Jerusalem Post reports that the president of the International Judo Federation, Marcus Vizer, sent a letter to the organizers of the competition demanding that “the Israeli delegation shall be treated equally in all respects” and reminding the organizers of the prohibition on discriminating “on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion.”3 Vizer's letter was quite clearly disregarded by the event organizers in Abu Dhabi. The International Judo Federation must now back up its words with actions, lest it prove to have no control over how athletes competing in the competitions it sponsors are treated. It is the responsibility of the International Judo Federation to ensure that the next time Tal Flicker or another Israeli judoka wins an important competition, they will be able to focus on their achievement without worrying about the deplorable politics of the event organizers. This applies not only to judo, but also to all international sporting bodies and competitions.