'Israel has problems, don't push it on judo'

Israel Judo Association reveals that uproar over Abu Dhabi discrimination belies much wider problem worldwide - even in ally nations.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Yarden Gerbi in action
Yarden Gerbi in action

Members of the Israel Judo Association returned to Israel on Monday afternoon from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and spoke to the press about how they were forced to compete without the Israeli flag.

At the Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, Yarden Gerbi and Sagi Muki won bronze medals for Israel Saturday, but the painfully obvious absence of the Israeli flag led to an uproar in Israel, with Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) vowing to take action.

However, it came out on Sunday that the International Judo Federation (IJF) claimed the Israel Judo Association itself supported the idea, with association head Moshe Ponti being quoted as saying: "We didn't want to endanger our athletes, we did everything possible so that the event would pass peacefully."

Ponti spoke about the controversial tournament at the press briefing, saying, "we didn't hide from anyone that we're Israelis, and everyone knew that we're Israelis. We're not politicians, we're athletes."

"My role as chairman of the judo association is to help my athletes and coaches to succeed as much as possible. That's what I try to do at all times."

His statement was backed by Shani Hershko, coach of the Israeli national judo team.

"Suddenly there's an uproar about Abu Dhabi, and it seems like something new to you all, but we go around the entire world, even in countries with the best relations with Israel, with security, and more than a few times we were forbidden from displaying the Israeli flag, or the name of Israel," noted Hershko.

"Israel has a problem"

"We go in all sorts of back-roads, enter through hotel kitchens to reach the room, and through bathrooms at competitions to come in through the back, and sleep in separate hotels, and we are forbidden from going out," he revealed. "These are things you all don't even know."

"It's not just us by the way, there are lots of people who serve the state of Israel and hide their Israeli identity. It isn't an issue just of sports. The state of Israel has a problem, and to come put the responsibility on us to solve it is a little too much."

Also addressing the issue was Yarden Gerbi, who broke out in tears after she won her medal over frustration at not being able to compete with her flag present.

"I'm very happy that in the end we competed, I'm also happy that I got to win that medal, it was very important for me, because to root for the (other Israeli) athletes on the first day from the side and to the see that IJF (flag instead of the Israeli flag - ed.) was very hard. But it caused me to shout even louder to support the girls and guys," she recalled.

"Again I think it was just a brave decision by Ponti. We're not involved in this issue so much, we come and compete and I'm glad we were able to navigate this route because for example in Morocco when they whistled and jeered us from the stands, and started to curse us, it wasn't so nice and it was pretty difficult to concentrate on the matches."

"So here at the end when I won the match I suddenly saw everyone with white robes clapping for me, it was a sight that for me was very different, and I've never experienced anything like it."

In conclusion, she said, "in the end I'm glad that I competed - again, whether they hid the flag or didn't hide the flag, they know I'm from Israel, they know I'm Israeli by all means, I represent Israel and for me it doesn't matter, and I think for them too it didn't really change anything."