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Historic Judo Match Between Israel and Saudi Arabia Ends in Enthusiastic Embrace 

While many consider the Olympics to be an apolitical event, and a time for nations to come together in a shared, mutually respectful competition, political elements often creep into the games. In past games, many competitors for Arab countries have pulled out of matches rather than face Israeli opponents as a political stance. This continues in the Tokyo Olympics, with an Algerian and a Sudanese judoka withdrawing from their scheduled matches with Israeli competitors, Tohar Butbol. Despite pressure to follow the lead of the other Muslim athletes, Saudi judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani chose to compete against Israel’s Raz Hershko in a historic match. The women’s +78 kg category match was won by Israel’s Hershko after just 1 minute and 44 seconds, making it a strong victory for Hershko. Following the match, the pair bowed to each other and then came together in the center for a strong display of sportsmanship by shaking hands, and then raising their clasped hands in the air together as a display of solidarity. Arab athletes from various nations have previously refused to shake hands with Israeli competitors in past professional sporting matches.  While she went on to be eliminated from the games in a later round, Hershko said she was very happy the match against Al-Qahtani went ahead: “We shook hands and hugged, we talked about the match, about the situation in her country,” Hershko said.” I told her I understood, and that she was brave. I'm happy she eventually stood up, despite everything, and fought like she should. I'm happy that the sport won out,” Hershko added. Al-Qahtani has expressed that she “wasn’t interested” in criticism of her decision to compete against Hershko. “I’ve turned off my phone for the past two days,” she said. “It was a normal match. I lost, but I feel OK – it’s sport in the end,” Al-Qahtani added. The International Judo Federation has condemned the actions of athletes in the sport that pulled out of matches with Israel, saying that Algerian Fethi Nourine’s stance was "in total opposition to the philosophy of the IJF. The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle.” While Saudi Arabia is yet to follow the lead of the UAE and Bahrain in normalizing relations with Israel, this Olympic match is a historic step towards a more peaceful future between the two nations. Overall in the Tokyo Olympics so far, Israel has won one gold medal and two bronze medals, with more events still to come.
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