The Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine and his coach, Amar Benikhlef, should be expelled at once from the International Judo Federation after their insulting behavior on the first day of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
Nourine withdrew from the under-73 kilogram event when he learned that his opponent would be Tohar Butbul, an Israeli. In line with the nefarious Arab athletic boycott against Israel, Nourine decided to forfeit his place in the Olympics rather than compete against an Israeli.
“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all this,” he told Algerian television, thereby politicizing his decision and besmirching the image of the Olympics.
Rushing to Nourine’s defence, Benikhlef said they had been unlucky with the draw. “We got an Israeli opponent, and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision.”
In fact, Nourine and Benikhlef are absolutely in the wrong. Their blatant boycott of an Israeli athlete contravenes the rules set out by the International Judo Federation, which promotes solidarity among athletes and expressly bans all forms of discrimination based on nationality, race and religion.
By refusing to compete in a match against Butbul, Nourine figuratively defecated on the values of the International Judo Federation. He may have acquitted himself as a hero in Arab and Palestinian circles, but in terms of observing federation policy, he showed himself to be an outlier.
Nourine appears to be an athlete who plays by his own rules. Two years ago, at the World Championships in Tokyo, he pulled out after learning he would be facing an Israeli in the next round.
In the wake of his latest escapade, Nourine can only be described as a serial offender. This is a stubborn and single-minded athlete who likely will never honor the regulations of the International Judo Federation unless they converge with his own opinions.
Having been charged with investigating Nourine’s breach of protocols, the federation’s disciplinary commission can only reach one judgment: Nourine, given his unacceptable political posturing, should be ejected from the federation and barred from competing in its tournaments in the future unless he changes his retrogressive attitude.
These sanctions should apply to his coach, too.
The International Olympic Committee would be wise to adopt the same standards. Prior to the next Olympic Games, athletes should be put on notice that they will be banned from all its venues unless they agree in writing to observe its principles.
Athletes like Nourine cannot be allowed to call the shots and set the tone, now or ever. Self-respecting athletic events must display zero tolerance toward intolerant and politically compromised athletes.
That’s the very least spectators should expect from athletic federations and the Olympics.