Judoka Islam El Shehaby of Egypt declined to shake hands with his winning opponent, Israel’s Or Sasson, following their Olympic match on Friday, thus drawing boos from the crowd.

El Shehaby, an ultraconservative Salafi, had come under pressure before the Games from Islamist-leaning and nationalist voices in Egypt to withdraw from the first-round heavyweight bout against Sasson.

“You dishonor Islam if you lose to Israel,” he was reportedly told. “How can you cooperate with a killer?”

With roughly a minute and a half remaining in the bout, Sasson earned an automatic victory in the heaviest weight class with two throws of El Shehaby.


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The Egyptian lay flat on his back for a moment during which he appeared to be praying. Then, he eventually got up and stood opposite Sasson in front of the referee. The Israeli extended his hand to El Shehaby, who had already seemed unwilling to even perform the traditional bow to his opponent. Eventually, Shehaby  walked off the mat, shaking his head. A judge and the referee urged the Egyptian to return to the mat and forced him to bow. El Shehaby gave a quick nod and was loudly jeered as he exited after Sasson gave up trying to shake his hand.

To refuse a handshake is very unusual and is considered a serious breech of judo etiquette. Competitors typically shake hands and bow both at the beginning and end of a match as a sign of respect in the Japanese martial art.

El Shehaby refused to comment, as did Sasson, who advanced to the semifinals later Friday to face top-ranked Frenchman Teddy Riner. 

Ofir Gendelman, Arabic language spokesman for the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called the incident “shocking.” In a Twitter post, he said it “goes against the spirit of Rio 2016,” writing in Arabic that “sports are not the field for politics and extremism.”

The International Judo Federation called it a sign of progress that the fight even took place between the two athletes.

“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to (fight) Israel,” spokesman Nicolas Messner said in an email. The competitors were under no obligation to shake hands, but a bow is mandatory, he added.

Messner said that even though El Shehaby ultimately bowed, “his attitude will be reviewed after the games to see if any further action should be taken.” He said the ethics commission of judo’s governing body would review the incident after the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee will also reportedly look into the incident.

“Things happen in the heat of the moment that are not acceptable,” IOC spokesman Mark Adams said. “We believe the Olympic movement should be about building bridges, not erecting walls. There’s absolutely no excuse for it.”

American coach Jimmy Pedro also weighed in on the controversy.

“This is extremely rare in judo,” Pedro said. “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.”

Egypt’s Olympic Committee distanced itself from El Shehaby’s behavior, saying the judoka was “”alerted before the match to abide by all the rules and to have sporting spirt during his match with the Israeli player.”

“What the player did after the match, and not shaking hands with his rival, is a personal action,” the committee said in a statement.

This is not the first time tensions have arisen between Israeli and Arab athletes in judo or in any other sport .At the quarterfinals of the 2011 judo Grand Slam in Moscow, Egyptian Ramadan Darwish refused to shake hands with Israeli Arik Zeevi. The next year, Darwish again declined to shake hands with Zeevi after beating the Israeli in their quarterfinal match at a tournament in Dusseldorf.

Egyptians clearly were divided before the match over whether El Shehaby should compete or withdraw, and there was a mixed reaction on social media afterward.

In a Facebook post, journalist Galal Nassar said: “As long as you agreed to play an Israeli champion in the Olympics, you should have exchanged the greeting.”

Egypt was the first country in the Arab world to sign a peace treaty and normalize relations with Israel after decades of war.

Meanwhile, USA’s Kayla Harrison made history by becoming the first American to win back-to-back gold medals in judo on Thursday. She follows American male judoka Travis Stevens, who won the first silver medal in his weight class earlier this week.

Harrison, 26, defeated No. 2-ranked Audrey Tcheumeo of France in the final of the 78kg weight class.

However, Harrison shocked by announcing in her post-match news conference that she is retiring. “I’m happy, I’m retiring,” she said. “Two-time Olympic champion. That’s it.”

There were rumors that Harrison could next pursue a career in mixed martial arts (MMA), but the Olympian dispelled those rumors.

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – AUGUST 12: Or Sasson of Israel (white) competes against Islam El Shehaby of Egypt in the Men’s +100 kg Elimination Round of 32 on Day 7 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 2 on August 12, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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