JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli judoka Or Sasson was allowed to wear Israel’s insignia at the Openweight World Championships in Marrakech, Morocco.
Sasson, who won a bronze medal for Israel in the 2016 Rio Olympics, was eliminated from the tournament Saturday with a loss to Cyrille Maret of France. But his appearance with “ISR” on his uniform was still a victory of sorts for Israel’s judo team, which was barred from displaying national symbols last month at a tournament in Abu Dhabi.
Morocco, a predominantly Muslim nation, had threatened not to grant visas to the Israeli team in the days ahead of the tournament. But International Judo Federation President Marius Vizer intervened, and the Israeli athletes arrived Thursday in Marrakech.
Last month Israeli judokas took five medals, one gold and four bronze, at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi. But the United Arab Emirates, which does not recognize Israel as a state, did not allow the athletes to display their national symbols. At the end of two matches, athletes from Morocco and the United Arab Emirates refused the outstretched hands of the Israelis who defeated them.
Moshe Ponte, the president of the Israel Judo Association, told JTA at the time that his team had nonetheless advanced acceptance of Israel. The United Arab Emirates’ top judo official publicly apologized to Ponte for the refusal by his athlete to shake his Israeli competitor’s hand. And he said the same official privately promised to do what he could to make sure the team could display its flag and hear its national anthem for the first time next year in Abu Dhabi.
“I think winning makes a difference,” Ponte said. “At this point, it’s worse for them to discriminate against us than not.”
However, Ponte was already worried at the time about getting Sasson a visa to fly to Morroco. He said his main focus was gathering as many points as possible for his athletes ahead of the 2020 Olympic Games.
“Israelis will see the flag and hear the anthem in Tokyo, and that’s the most important thing,” he said.