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Algerian judoka suspended after quitting Olympics rather than facing Israeli opponent

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An Algerian judoka was already out of the Olympics over his refusal to face an opponent from Israel, but now he could miss some other events, too.

Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the men's 73kg judo event to avoid a potential Round of 32 matchup with Israel's Tohar Butbul, and his coach Amar Benikhlef have been temporarily suspended, the International Judo Federation announced in a statement Saturday.

The IJF's justification for the suspension and potential further punishment:

According to the IJF rules, in line with the Olympic Charter and especially with rule 50.2 that provides for the protection of the neutrality of sport at the Olympic Games and the neutrality of the Games themselves, which states that “no kind of demonstration or political, religious or racial propaganda is permitted in any Olympic sites, venues or other areas,” Fethi Nourine and Amar Benikhlef are now suspended and will face a decision by the IJF Disciplinary Commission, as well as disciplinary sanctions by the National Olympic Committee of Algeria back in their country. 

Judo sport is based on a strong moral code, including respect and friendship, to foster solidarity and we will not tolerate any discrimination, as it goes against the core values and principles of our sport.

Nourine had been scheduled to face Sudan's Mohamed Abdalrasool on Monday in the first round of the competition. Had he won, he would have been guaranteed to face Butbul, who had received a first-round bye.

Per the statement, the Algerian Olympic Committee now plans to send Nourine home.

Nourine cited political support for Palestine over the decision, though his refusal is in line with boycotts against Israel athletes seen across the Arab world. Several athletes from Iran, Algeria, Lebanon and others have refused to face Israeli opponents or even compete in events with Israeli participation in recent years.

The country of Iran was hit with a four-year suspension from the IJF earlier this year after former world champion Saeid Mollaei said he was ordered to lose a semifinal match in the 2019 world championships to avoid a finals matchup against an Israeli opponent. Nourine did the same thing at the 2019 world championships, withdrawing rather than face Butbul.

Nourine and Benikhlef will now face an investigation from an IJF commission to confirm the facts of their withdrawal, with the federation's disciplinary commission to handle final sanctioning beyond the Olympics.

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