Egyptian Olympian Booted Over His Handshake Snub of Israeli Opponent

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Rio 2016: Egypt's El Shehaby Disciplined, Sent Home Over Handshake Snub

Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby, blue, declines to shake hands with Israel’s Or Sasson

Markus Schreiber/AP


08/15/2016 AT 06:00 PM EDT

It was the snub heard ’round the world, and Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby is being sent home for it.

Immediately after losing in the first round of the Olympic’s male heavyweight judo contest in Rio on Friday, El Shehaby pointedly refused to shake the hand of his opponent, Israeli judoka Or Sasson, or give him a high-five. He attempted to leave the mat after ignoring Sasson, but was directed to return for the traditional post-match bow.

On Friday, the International Olympic Committee announced it had sent the 34-year-old competitor packing, declaring his actions “against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic values,” the BBC and Associated Press report.

“As well as a severe reprimand, the [disciplinary committee] has asked the Egyptian Olympic Committee to ensure in future that all their athletes receive proper education on the Olympic Values before coming to the Olympic Games,” the IOC said, according to Reuters.

Pictures and video of El Shehaby’s behavior were widely circulated online, and he was condemned by the sports world at large as well as the judo community. (He was thoroughly booed in the arena at the time, as well.)

“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he’s not my friend,” El Shehaby said after the match, according to Reuters.

“I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs,” he said. “But for personal reasons, you can’t ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this State, especially in front of the whole world.”

Related: An Olympian in Judo Fights to Make a Living

“That is extremely rare in judo,” American coach Jimmy Pedro told The New York Times last week of the controversy. “It is especially disrespectful considering it was a clean throw and a fair match. It was completely dishonorable and totally unsportsmanlike on the part of the Egyptian.”

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El Shehaby and Sasson’s match had been lauded as a sign of progress in the relationship between Israel and Egypt. As Reuters notes, there is a history of Middle Eastern athletes refusing to compete against Israelis.

“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to [fight] Israel,” International Judo Federation spokesman Nicolas Messner said in an email to the AP last week.

But El Shehaby had been under pressure from conservative voices in Egypt who urged him to withdraw from the match, according to the BBC, and he had faced calls from fans on social media not to participate in the match, according to Reuters.


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