By Dor Hoffman
Despite heavy pressure to boycott her scheduled match against Israel’s Raz Hershko on Friday, judoka Tahani al-Qahtani of Saudi Arabia chose to face off against Hershko in the women’s 78 kg. category of the Tokyo Olympics.
This is a historic moment in the #TokyoOlympics. Congrats to ?? Judoka Raz Hershko, but what's more important here is the fact that's it's the first match ever between a Saudi and an Israeli athlete. This is what sports is all about. Both Raz and Tahani Al-Qahtani are winners. pic.twitter.com/EUsTzwfIIN
— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) July 30, 2021
Hershko beat Al-Qahtani, but went on to be eliminated from the Tokyo Games. After the match, Hershko and Al-Qahtani shared a warm, non-combative embrace.
?| أنهت لاعبة المنتخب السعودي للجودو ‘تهاني القحطاني’ مشاركتها الأولى في دورات الألعاب الأولمبية بعد خسارتها في الدور الاقصائي لمسابقة الجودو ?
— Saudi Olympic | الأولمبية السعودية (@saudiolympic) July 30, 2021
“I’m happy this match took place. 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 said.
“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,” Hershko added.
As of last Monday, it was still unclear whether or not Al-Qahtani would face Hershko. Despite the political pressure on her to forgo the match, a number of social-media users opined that she should compete, whether because they felt that the Olympics are apolitical or because they wanted to see her “beat the devil.”
The Hershko-Al-Qahtani match came after Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine was sent home from the games for refusing to compete against Israel’s Tohar Butbul.
The International Judo Federation called Nourine’s stance “in total opposition to the philosophy of the IJF. The IJF has a strict non-discrimination policy, promoting solidarity as a key principle.”
This report first appeared in Israel Hayom.