UAE officials apologize to Israel judo team following handshake snub

     Israel's Judo Association President meets with Marius Vizer and two senior UAE sporting officials.

    Story highlights

    • Leading officials from Israel and UAE meet in gesture of reconciliation
    • "This was a gesture of courage," says IJF president

    (CNN)Two senior sporting officials from the United Arab Emirates have apologized after one of the country's competitors refused to shake hands with an Israeli opponent at a judo tournament.

    Politics threatened to overshadow sporting matters during this week's Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam, given the UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel and like most other Arab countries doesn't recognize it as a state.
      Five Israeli athletes won medals at the IPIC Arena, only to be greeted by the official music and flag of the International Judo Federation (IJF) while standing on the podium.
      Compounding matters, a UAE athlete declined to shake hands with Israel's Tohar Butbul -- an eventual bronze medalist -- following the pair's first-round match on Friday.
      But in a move branded "historic" by the IJF, Israel Judo Association President Moshe Ponte met this weekend with Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei, president of the UAE's Judo Federation.
      Ponte and Al-Darei "shared greetings and positive discussion," according to the IJF, with UAE judo general secretary Naser Al-Tameemi also in attendance.
      "This was a gesture of courage, humanity and respect for the sport" said IJF President Marius Vizer, who witnessed the meeting. "[They] apologized because of the UAE athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes and also congratulated the Israel team for their success here."

      'Delicate issues'

      Israel's male half-lightweight judoka Tal Flicker found particular success at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, beating several more established names to win gold.
      But he made global headlines for altogether different reasons, singing Hatikvah alone atop the podium in the absence of his national anthem within the venue.
      UASE Judo Federation president Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei poses with Israeli bronze medalist Peter Paltchick and Mr. Aref Al-Awani, General Secretary of Abu Dhabi Sports Council.
      "It was weird," Flicker told CNN Sport on Friday. "Israel is my country and I'm proud to be from Israel.
      "I sang Hatikvah because I don't know anything else. This is my anthem."
      Flicker and his 11 compatriots competing at the elite international event were forced to wear judogis (judo uniforms) without the typical identifying symbols of their nationality -- despite the IJF reportedly contacting the president of the UAE Judo Federation insisting "all delegations ... be treated absolutely equally."
      For Vizer, though, Flicker and his team were treated well given the "delicate issues" between the two nations.
      "Sometimes with courage, respect and politeness, you can solve tensions and conflicts which have not been solved [for] many decades," said Vizer.
      "I consider that even without the flag and anthem of Israel, their team have been treated very well and with high respect during this event.
      Egypt's Islam El Shehaby, blue, declined to shake hands with Israel's Or Sasson, white, after losing during the men's over 100-kg judo competition at the Rio Olympic Games on Friday, August 12.
      "Such delicate issues between countries, governments and nations cannot be solved overnight and cannot be solved through the sport immediately."
      Judo's moral code, created by the sport's founder Jigoro Kano, preaches a set of ethics encouraging friendship, courage and honor.
      And Vizer concluded on a positive note, contending the IJF has made "important steps for the participation and recognition of the Israeli team" in recent years.
      Judo World: Welcome to 'The Gentle Way'
      Judo World: Welcome to 'The Gentle Way'


        Judo World: Welcome to 'The Gentle Way'


      Judo World: Welcome to 'The Gentle Way' 22:48
      "Two years ago we achieved the first participation of an Israel team in Abu Dhabi," he said. "Now it's the second time, but with a much better approach. I hope in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.
      "I hope soon we can break down more barriers for more tolerance between countries and nations to express the real value of the sport, friendship unity and solidarity."