Israeli Judoka Sagi Muki will return to Ben-Gurion Airport today with the blue-and-white delegation in the hope of finally departing for Abu Dhabi, where they are set to compete in the Grand Slam event that starts on Thursday..
(photo credit: ASAF KLIGER)
Israel’s delegation to the judo Grand Slam event in Abu Dhabi will set out for the capital of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, hoping it actually reaches its destination after spending seven hours at Ben-Gurion Airport on Monday only to return home frustrated.
The Israel team, numbering 12 athletes, was supposed to board a flight to Istanbul, Turkey, pick up its visas for Abu Dhabi before departing for its final destination.
However, shortly before the flight took off, Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponte was told by the organizers of the Grand Slam that the delegation can’t fly via Turkey as the visas state otherwise. An hour later, the organizers said the problem had been solved, but by that stage the flight the team was supposed to take Istanbul had already departed.
After failing to book a later flight to Istanbul, Ponte and the coaching staff decided it would be best to allow the judokas to spend the night at home before embarking on the journey to Abu Dhabi on Tuesday.
The Grand Slam begins on Thursday and runs until Saturday.
The participation of the Israelis in the event stirred controversy after the Israel Judo Association was told that its athletes will not be allowed to compete under their country’s flag. The Israel flag will not appear on their judo uniform as it does in every other event across the world and instead of having ISR (Israel) by their names on the scoreboard and on their backs, they will have to take part in the contest as representatives of the IJF (International Judo Federation).
Should an Israeli win a gold medal, the national anthem will not be played.
Israel and the UAE do not have diplomatic relations, as is the case with many Arab countries.
Before he knew that he would be returning home for the night, the coach of Israel’s men’s national judo team, Oren Smadja, likened the delegation’s trip to compete in Abu Dhabi to a discrete operation of an elite army unit behind enemy lines.
“We are like an elite army unit entering hostile territory without a flag on its uniform looking to complete a mission,” said Smadja. “We want to beat our opponents, pick up ranking points and move on.”
Rio Olympics bronze medalist Ori Sasson admitted that it will be strange to compete without the Israel flag.
“This is an unfortunate situation, but we will do everything we can to win,” said Sasson, who is coming off winning the gold medal at the Grand Prix event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in what was his first competition since Rio. “I assume that we won’t have a chance to see the sights, but that is fine as we aren’t going there for a holiday. We will do what we are told, and if this is the way it has to be we will do what we need to in order to win.”