Contrary to an expected boycott, the match went on and Raz Hershko and Tahani Alqahtani bonded afterwards.
By World Israel News Staff
In a historic match, Israeli judoka Raz Hershko defeated Saudi opponent Tahani Alqahtani at the Tokyo Olympics on Friday.
Arab countries that don’t have diplomatic relations with the Jewish state, such as Saudi Arabia, generally boycott matches against Israeli athletes.
“I’m happy this match took place,” Hershko said. “After the match, we talked a little in the hall, but she [Al-Qahtani] didn’t want the media to document it. We shook hands and hugged, we talked about the match, about the situation in her country.”
Hershko added, “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.”
Alqahtani was at the center of fierce Saudi debate over whether to boycott the match. Judokas from Algeria and Sudan already boycotted matches with Israel’s Tal Butbul.
And at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, another Saudi judoka, Joud Fahmy, forfeited a first round fight to avoid a match against Israel’s Gili Cohen in a following round.
In an additional wrinkle, Alqahtani is one of only two women competing for Saudi Arabia in Tokyo. Until 2012, the Saudis banned women from competing on the national team. The kingdom recently began loosening restrictions on women’s sports.
Hershko’s aspirations for a medal ended when she lost a subsequent elimination match to Japan’s Akira Sone.
In another memorable Olympic moment, Iranian-Mongolian judoka Saeid Mollaei dedicated his silver medal to Israel.
Nineteen-year-old taekwando fighter Avishag Semberg remains Israel’s only medalist so far at the Tokyo games.