Political statement or poor sportsmanship? Egyptian judo fighter Islam El Shehaby was booed loudly after he refused to shake his Israeli opponent’s hand following a loss at the Rio Olympics on Friday, August 12.
El Shehaby, 34, faced off against Israel’s fifth-ranked Or Sasson and lost with about a minute and a half remaining in the bout after Sasson, 25, defeated him with two throws for an automatic victory.
In footage from the match, El Shehaby can be seen lying flat on his back for a moment before returning to his place by the referee, facing Sasson. When the Israeli athlete extends a hand for a shake, however, El Shehaby simply backs away, shaking his head until Sasson finally gives up with a dismissive gesture toward the Egyptian Olympian.
Fans in the stadium booed El Shehaby’s refusal, which has been interpreted as both signs of a sore loser and something bigger and more political. When the referee called El Shehaby back to the mat to perform the customary bow, the athlete simply nodded his head quickly.
“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to [fight] Israel,” International Judo Federation spokesperson Nicolas Messner told the Associated Press in an email. Egypt is the first country in the Arab world to sign a peace treaty with Israel following decades of war.
According to AP, El Shehaby had been under pressure to drop out of the fight by Islamic-leaning voices prior to the historic fight on Friday.
“My son, watch out, don’t be fooled, or fool yourself thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy,” Islamist-leaning TV host Mataz Matar said Thursday. “Egypt will cry. Egypt will be sad, and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people.”
El Shehaby has not released any comments about the much-talked-about moment.