'Israel Judo Association didn't want Israeli flag'

Int'l Judo Federation says it is surprised by uproar over Abu Dhabi discrimination, after Israeli association backed move for 'security.'

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Yarden Garbi in action
Yarden Garbi in action

The International Judo Federation claimed on Sunday night that the Israel Judo Association willingly supported having its athletes perform without the Israeli flag, in a tournament in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that has caused an uproar.

At the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, Yarden Gerbi and Sagi Muki won bronze medals for Israel Saturday, but were forced to compete without the flag. The absence was most painfully apparent at the medal distribution ceremony, when they were the only judokas without their flag present.

Israel has responded with ire to the blatant discrimination; Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) condemned the move, and pressed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to order an investigation on Sunday morning.

For its part the Israel Judo Association has argued it was forced to go ahead with the event without the flags, because the alternative was that the Israeli athletes would be banned from competing.

But representatives of the International Judo Federation told Channel 2 they were surprised by the outrage, arguing that the Israel Judo Association itself completely backed the move.

They further said that Israel Judo Association director Moshe Ponti explicitly stated: "We didn't want to endanger our athletes, we did everything possible so that the event would pass peacefully."

Aside from getting Netanyahu involved, Regev has said she intends to hold an emergency meeting in her office this week with the heads of all Israeli sports associations.

She is also expected to fly to an urgent meeting with the head of the Olympic Committee to find a solution to the issue and prevent repeat occurrences along the road to the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Judoka Gerbi spoke about her frustration in competing without her flag, saying, "it annoyed me so much, it hurt me so much, but when I got on the mat today I felt a different feeling, that something is burning inside me. When I won the match for the bronze medal I broke out in tears, it was so hard for me, this feeling that I'm not under my flag and my country."

"But today, more than ever, it was important for me to compete, to win, to prove to everyone that taking part here is the greatest victory. All those who call it a disgrace...I represent my state always, whether they hide my flag or not. The decision was made only after we reached Abu Dhabi and not in an initial decision."