Saudi Judoka Faces Israeli Opponent

Saudi judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani learned her first round opponent in the Tokyo Olympics would be Raz Hershko of Israel, a country with which Saudi Arabia has no official diplomatic relations.

One might think Tahani might follow in the footsteps of so many Arab and Muslim athletes from countries that have been traditional or present foes of the Jewish state – or at least be forced to by the Saudi Judo Federation. But the winds of change are blowing strongly.

For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, it was announced prior to the Games that Saudi Arabia earned a last-minute wildcard to participate in the competition in the women’s +78kg with Tahani Alqahtani. After the official draw, she discovered that her first round would be against Raz Hershko from Israel. Immediately questions arose that were answered today in the most humanist and respectful way, by two athletes representing their two delegations.

With what happened today at the Nippon Budokan, once again judo makes history and helps to build a better world, where respect is the core value of human relations. Saudi Arabia proves that, through sport, we can go beyond differences and make sport a force to unite the world.

The match between Tahani Alqahtani and Raz Hershko took place and that represents a massive step forward that proves respect and friendship while showing that sport can transcend any political or exterior influence.

This is what she came for, in full respect of the judo rules and with respect for her opponent. What happened today is not a minor event, it is a massive step forward and the IJF is happy, together with all its partners, from the IOC to the NOC of Saudi Arabia and all those involved, to have contributed to a world where understanding means something.

Saudis rallied behind the decision:

Saudis have been rallying around judoka Tahani Al-Qahtani as she prepares to take to the mat against Israeli athlete Raz Hershko at Tokyo 2020.

Al-Qahtani has chosen not to withdraw from the Judo Women’s +78 kg Round of 32 clash as a form of protest against Israel. The matter came to the fore after Algerian Fethi Nourine withdrew from the Judo Men’s +73 kg competition rather than face the possibility of taking on an Israeli athlete.

Sports fans and leading media figures in Saudi Arabia, including writers, academics and celebrities, have taken to social media, particularly Twitter, to express their support for Al-Qahtani ahead of her Olympic debut on Friday, July 30 in the Nippon Budokan arena.

The 21-year-old has received huge backing for her decision, with many voices pointing out that the idea of the Olympics is to put aside political differences and take part in what is very often the pinnacle of an athlete’s career.

Ghadah Al-Ghunaim, board member of the King Abdulaziz Center for National Dialogue, tweeted her support.

“Don’t quit, face her. Withdrawing is a fake victory. Whether you win or lose, you are a hero in our eyes. Good luck, the pride and joy of the country,” she posted.

Former professor in political sciences Dr. Turki Al-Hamad tweeted: “I hope that our Saudi heroine will not withdraw from the sporting event with the Israeli player and give her victory by simply withdrawing. It is a matter of sports in the end, and Israel will not go away with such a withdrawal.” 

For the record, Raz defeated Tahani but peace and sportsmanship were the real winners.

Hat tip: Maimon


David Lange

A law school graduate, David Lange transitioned from work in the oil and hi-tech industries into fulltime Israel advocacy. He is a respected commentator and Middle East analyst who has often been cited by the mainstream media