In the Olympic Games last year, the world saw a flagrant display of unsportsmanlike behavior when Egyptian judoka, Islam El Shehaby, snubbed Israeli Or Sasson, by refusing to shake his hand. Sasson went on to win the bronze medal in his category.
Shehaby, an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim had even contemplated withdrawing to avoid competing against the Israeli. He was disciplined by both the International and the Egyptian Olympic Committees.
Refusals by athletes from Islamic countries to compete against Israelis is nothing new.
There have also been reports of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents on the soccer field in Italy, the Netherlands and Great Britain. For the most part, these offenses are addressed and the perpetrators penalized accordingly.
At the end of last month, however, a different scenario unfolded. At the Mediterranean Cup Swimming Competition (COMEN) in Malta, an Algerian swimmer, Abdullah Ardjoun did compete against an Israeli — and was severely reprimanded by his country despite winning the gold medal. An Algerian political party, the Movement for the Society of Peace, said that it was greatly displeased that their swimmer had participated in the event.
“The Movement deplores this abhorrent behavior and considers it a retreat from the Algerian attitude and firm policies towards the Palestinian cause and a betrayal of the national commitments which we have inherited from the martyrs, the Mujahideen and the great national political leaders!” the party said.
This animosity has existed for many years. In the 2004 Athens Olympics another Judoka faced an Israeli athlete, causing controversy in his country. Algeria, which has no formal relations with Israel, expects its athletes to forgo their respective matches rather than face Israel in the pool, on the field or in the ring. In the same Olympics an Iranian judoka did refuse to compete against an Israeli opponent.
Following the statement of the Algerian Movement for the Society of Peace, there has been no response from sporting authorities or the Algerian Swimming Federation.