Despite Israel's closure of its borders due to new infectious strains of coronavirus, and many Israelis still stuck abroad, Indian and Iranian judokas are set to land in Israel on Sunday to take part in the Tel Aviv Grand Slam slated from February 18 to 20.
However, it will not be that easy.
The Indian delegation, consisting of five players — three men and two women — and a coach, will first have to fly to Istanbul in Turkey, before boarding a charter flight from there to Israel to attend the competition, the New Indian Express (NIE) reported.
"The tickets will be booked once the visa process is over. The judokas have options to leave on any day from February 14 to 16. Covid protocols are strict in Israel which means our team has to board a charter flight from Istanbul," Man Mohan Jaiswal, secretary-general of the Judo Federation of India (JFI), told NIE.
Along with the Indian team, the Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei, who fled his country after speaking out against the regime last year, is expected to land in Israel on Sunday to participate in the competition, Kan 11 News reported Sunday.
"Saeid Mollaei is due to land … in Israel tonight," a senior official from the competition's organizing committee told Kan, adding that the tournament was a "festival of sports beyond borders."
The tournament will provide the participants a chance to be qualified for the Olympics.
At the beginning of December 2020, the International Judo Federation (IJF) selected Tel Aviv to host one of its iconic Grand Slam tournaments in February 2021.
“It will be critical for Olympic qualification criteria, which ensures great competition. All the greats will be coming here to ensure their participation in the Olympics,” said Israel Judo Association President Moshe Ponte at the time of the announcement.
Israel has hosted the IJF’s marquee Grand Prix tournament in Tel Aviv for the past two years. In 2018, Israel also hosted the European Judo Championships.Zachary Keiser contributed to this report.