July 26, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9463

Saudi Journalists Encourage Local Judoka Al-Qahtani To Show Up For Match With Israeli Opponent

July 26, 2021
Saudi Arabia | Special Dispatch No. 9463

Saudi judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani is slated to face Israeli judoka Raz Hershko on July 30, 2021 in the Tokyo Olympics. Users on social media have been debating whether Al-Qahtani should show up for the match or should forfeit it, following the example of Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine, who withdrew from the games several days ago in order to avoid facing an Israeli opponent, on the grounds that he identifies with the Palestinian people and opposes normalization with Israel.[1]

Alongside Saudis and Palestinians who called on Al-Qahtani to withdraw from the games,[2] many Saudi journalists and intellectuals on social media encouraged her to be sportsmanlike and show up for the match with the Israeli opponent. Sports bring peoples together, and are no place for politics, they said; moreover, withdrawing from the match will be a "disgrace" and will not do Israel any harm. One journalist posted the news about Israeli taekwondo athlete Avishag Semberg winning the bronze after beating a Turkish opponent, and added sarcastically: "A Turkish athlete is allowed to compete with an Israeli, but a Saudi is not."[3]

According to a report in the London-based Saudi daily Al-Sharq A-Awsat, the Saudi delegation has given Al-Qahtani permission to compete against the Israeli athlete, in order to protect her and the Saudi Judo Federation from facing sanctions by the International Olympic Committee, like those that have been issued against the Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine. The deputy head of the Saudi Judo Federation, Nabil Hassan, told the daily that Al-Qahtani is at the beginning of her career and it is important to ease the pressure on her, encourage her and trust her. [4]

Saudi Sports Ministry poster: "Tahani Al-Qahtani to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics" (Source: Al-Quds Al-Arabi, London, July 24, 2021).

This report presents some of the social media posts encouraging the Saudi judoka to stay in the games and face the Israeli opponent.

Liberal Saudi intellectual Turki Al-Hamad tweeted: "I fervently hope that our Saudi champion will not avoid facing the Israeli judoka in a sporting spirit and let her immediately win [by default]. After all, this is only a sports [match] and Israel will not cease to exist following such a withdrawal. The evil tongues [calling on Al-Qahtani to withdraw] will continue to wallow in the quagmire of evil, whether she withdraws or shows up for the match."[5] 

Turki Al-Hamad's tweet

'Othman Al-'Omeir, editor of the news website Elaph, tweeted: "I support Tahani Al-Qahtani, whether she wins or loses. It will be a disgrace [only] if she withdraws."[6] Senior Saudi journalist and former editor of the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily, Salman Dosary, tweeted: "The culture of making decisions based on the preferences of [people] in crisis is gone for good. Withdrawing [from sports matches] is the culture of the isolated. Sports and arts [reflect] relations between peoples, not governments. Tahani Al-Qahtani is our daughter and we support her, whether she wins or loses."[7]

Salman Al-Dosary's tweet

Saudi journalist Haila Al-Mashouh wrote: "Those tired slogans are not the language we use today, for the main thing is to be present in every forum and [face] every opponent.  The main thing is to mingle with the world nations, in a sporting spirit and without hopeless gambles."[8]

Haila Al- Mashouh tweet

As stated above, Saudi journalist 'Abd Al-'Aziz Al-Khames shared a report on Israeli athlete Avishag Semberg winning the bronze medal in taekwondo, and tweeted sarcastically: "A Turkish athlete is allowed to compete with an Israeli, but a Saudi is not."[9] Fayz Al-'Uraby Al-Harthi, a columnist on the online Saudi papers and, tweeted: "I support our fellow Saudi, the champion Tahani Al-Qahtani, facing the Israeli judoka in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic judo tournament. Good luck! Allah willing, we will celebrate her win with her. Sports unite people in fair competition, and should not be contaminated by mixing them with politics and religion."[10]

Fayz Al-'Uraby's tweet

Report On Al-Watan Website: The Public Calls On Tahani Not To Withdraw From The Match With The Israeli

Calls for Al-Qahtani to show up for the match with the Israeli also appeared in the Saudi press. The website of the Al-Watan daily posted a report titled "The Public Calls On Saudi [Athlete] Tahani: Don't Withdraw From [The Match With] The Israeli."[11] The Washington-based news network Saudi Post tweeted in a similar vein: "Popular support for the Judo champion Tahani Al Qahtani before her confrontation with the Israeli [athlete Raz Hershko] for the Olympic Tokyo Qualifications next Friday."[12]

The article on the Al-Watan website


[1] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), July 24, 2021.

[2] Especially conspicuous were tweets by senior Saudi analyst Khalid Al-Dakhil, which evoked many responses. He wrote that "It would be best if the Saudi judoka withdraws from the match with the Israeli representative. Saudi Arabia does not recognize this state [Israel], and the Saudi people regard it as an occupation state… This is not a withdrawal from facing an Israeli athlete as an individual or as a Jew, but a legitimate [act of] opposing the state she represents (, July 25, 2021).  

[3], July 24, 2021.

[4] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), July 26, 2021.

[5], July 24, 2021.

[6], July 25, 2021.

[7], July 24, 2021.

[8], July 25, 2021.

[9], July 24, 2021.

[10], July 25, 2021.

[11], July 24, 2021.

[12], July 24, 2021.

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