TOKYO, 27 July 2021 – The first big story about Africa’s participation at the ongoing Tokyo Olympics is not about gold medals won or even about sports.

Rather it is about the politics of sports and the steps athletes continue to take in the sports arena to promote political causes their countries or they, as individuals, support or feel strongly about.

Not Willing to Compete aganst Israel, Sudanese Judoka (L) and Algerian Peer Withdraw from Tokyo Olympics in the First Big Political Statement of the Games - Photo The Sun

Not Willing to Compete aganst Israel, Sudanese Judoka Abdalrasool (L) and Algerian and African Champion Nourine Withdraw in the First Big Political Statement of the Games – Photo Montage by The Sun

Algerian and Sudanese Judokas Suspended and Sent Home from Tokyo Olympics - Photo Al Arabiya

Algerian and Sudanese Judokas Suspended and Sent Home from Tokyo Olympics – Photo Al Arabiya

It is the story of Sudanese and Algerian judokas pulling out of the games after refusing to compete against Israel’s Tohar Butbul.

Algerian judoka Fethi Nourine pulled out of the games, refusing to fight against Sudanese judoka Mohamed Abdalrasool in the first round of the 73kg men’s category out of a desire not to compete against Israel’s Tohar Butbul.

Fethi Nourine is Africa’s reigning judoka champion after winning the title in 2019 and representing the African continent at the end of 2019.

The Algerian won his first round of fighting at the Tokyo Olympics but withdrew in order to prevent competing against the Israeli judoka, Butbol.

“We have prepared a lot for this competition, but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all this,” the Algerian judoka was cited Tuesday by Algerian media as saying.

The Sudanese athlete followed the example set by the Algerian athlete, indicating that the reason he refused to compete was to “protest against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians”.

Algerian Judoka and African Champion Fethi Nourine Withdraws from Tokyo Olympics - Photo RT

Algerian Judoka and African Champion Fethi Nourine Withdraws from Tokyo Olympics – Photo RT

Both Fethi Nourine and Mohamed Abdalrasool were sent back home to Algeria and Sudan respectively after the Algerian was suspended and the Sudanese was banned by the International Olympic Committee.

Unlike Algeria, Sudan has agreed to enter into full diplomatic relations with Israel and the political statement by Mohamed Abdalrasool appears to be a personal decision by the judoka.

Over many decades, athletes have used protests to bring attention to political causes and to demand change.

One of the most iconic moment was at the Olympic Games in Mexico City in 1968.

In this Oct. 16, 1968 file iconic photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City - Photo AP

In this Oct. 16, 1968 file iconic photo, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith (C) and John Carlos (R) raise their gloved fists after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City – Photo AP

Politicians and Sports Federations, including the International Olympic Committee, have become more willing to accommodate such expressions in the last few years, showing more support for athletes who “take the knee” to protest racism, for example.

Ahead of the Tokyo Olympics, the rules of the games were updated to allow for some form of protests so long as they were within certain limits.

The new rules allow athletes to express their political views on the field of play before the start of competition or doing the introduction of the athlete or team in a way that must be consistent with the Principles of Olympism and are not targeted against “people, countries, [organizations] and/or their dignity”.

The rules also ban the expression of views that the International Olympic Committee considers disruptive.

Many athletes argue that the rules are blurred and that the resistance within sports circles prevent athletes from using their star power to bring about change in a world that desperately needs same.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team. This month, a reverting one on one interview with the Chairman on African Affairs at IMF

You have Successfully Subscribed!