Seven Israeli athletes were met with rebuffs and outright hostility while competing in the International Judo Federation's World Masters tournament in Morocco this weekend.
Israeli media outlets reported that the judokas faced chants of "We will murder you," "You're not wanted here, go home," and boos each time they hit the mat.
Israeli judo coach Oren Smadja said the repeated insults, including Moroccan spectators booing the Israelis, was “a difficult experience” but added he would go to any Arab country to compete. (Screenshot: Sport5)
But that was only part of the torrent of insults they reportedly had to put up with while they tried to keep focus.
Ynet News reported that the voyage got off to a bumpy start when, just hours before their flight, the delegation’s Israeli Shin Bet security services bodyguards refused to travel to the North African country and advised the group cancel altogether.
But because the competition contributes to Olympic qualification rankings, the team was set on participating.
The head of the International Judo Federation Marius Vizer stepped in and convinced Moroccan authorities to provide security guards for the group, Ynet reported:
But when the delegation landed in Rabat, it turned out that the nightmare had just begun: The members of the Israeli delegation were held up at the airport for more than eight hours, in a large room with no chairs, food or water. The Moroccan authorities explained that the delegation members had no visas, but later changed their version and claimed that one of the passengers had a weapon in his suitcase.
Only after the International Judo Federation chairman threatened to call off the entire competition, the Israeli delegation members were allowed into the country, and were escorted to their hotel by the [Moroccan] king's security unit.
The Israelis noticed that mention of their team and their flag was not on the competition website. Once they competed, they saw that the Israeli flag wasn’t raised at the sports facility. Some audience members waved Palestinian flags.
"What happened in Morocco was a disgrace," 2013 World Judo Championships gold medalist Yarden Gerbi said. "As an Israeli, I am ashamed to wait at the airport for eight hours and I am ashamed to hear my fellow team members getting booed – all because we are Israelis.”
“We came for the sake of sports, pure sports, not politics, and this is a disgrace on Morocco and the organizers," Gerbi added.
Israeli team coach Oren Smadja, an Olympic bronze medalist in judo, wrote Monday about his experience.
“I always heard stories from friends who were born and raised in Morocco, who said the country was good to the Jews, respectful and welcoming to guests," he wrote. "Once the team landed at the Rabat airport, all my illusions were shattered.”
“Despite all the difficulties, they fought and represented the country with dignity,” he added.
Smadja said the sport needs to be “cleaned up” from politics and that countries which can’t honor the competitors don’t deserve the privilege of hosting tournaments.
Ynet reported that the Israeli team got two fifth place wins and three seventh place wins, but no medals.