TEL AVIV – Egypt’s Judo Federation denied on Tuesday that Olympic athlete Islam El Shehaby (pictured above right) was sent home for refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent after being defeated.
“There is no punishment. Islam [El Shehaby] traveled back home with his team as scheduled,” Sameh Mubasher, head of the Egyptian Judo Federation, told CNN, adding that the Egyptian judoka “didn’t do anything wrong. He was polite.”
An International Olympic Committee spokesman, however, said Monday that the Egyptian Olympic Committee “strongly condemned the actions of Mr Islam El Shehaby and has sent him home.”
After losing to Israel’s Or Sasson, El Shehaby snubbed Sasson’s proffered hand and even refused to bow according to the rules of Judo. The referee subsequently ordered the Egyptian to return to the floor and bow, which he did by giving a quick nod amid boos from the crowd.
El Shehaby was reprimanded by an Olympic disciplinary commission.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams admonished the move.
“We believe that the Olympic movement is about building bridges and never about building walls,” he said.
“There’s absolutely no excuse for it,” he added.
On Sunday, Sasson told Army Radio that while he did not expect El Shehaby to shake his hand, he decided to offer it nonetheless as a sign of “respect.”
Sasson said that even though Muslim competitors often give the cold shoulder toward their Israeli counterparts, the sport requires judokas to show respect.
“To honor your rival is something I was educated to do,” he said. “The Olympics is built on respect.”
El Shehaby defended his action, telling Egypt’s El Youm el Sabah news site that it was a decision taken in the heat of the moment.
“The Israeli athlete is not my friend whom I must greet,” he said, adding, “I worked really hard to get into this Olympics, and in the end it turned into something political.”
Sasson and fellow Israeli judoka Yarden Gerbi, who also secured a bronze medal, returned to Israel on Monday to a hero’s welcome with 1,000 fans waiting at Ben-Gurion Airport to greet them.