London: The Lebanon judo team has refused to train alongside the Israeli team, demanding that a curtain screen be erected so that the athletes would not have to see each other.
The latest political row on the eve of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games prompted anger from an Israeli official who said ”what? they can’t see us, but they will smell us.”
London 2012 organising committee officials erected a makeshift curtain to split the two halves of a training gym at the ExCeL centre on Friday afternoon to placate the Lebanese team, which was refusing to train at the same time as the Israelis.
Earlier officials from another country, Iran, said they would compete against Israel but that view has since been contradicted by officials in Tehran.
The latest argument occurred days after the international teams were warned by International Olympic Committee Jacques Rogge that athletes who feign injuries to avoid confronting athletes from other countries would be suspended.
He announced that an independent doctor would monitor any alleged injuries of athletes involved in suspected political withdrawals.
The 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore featured a sudden withdrawal by Iranian competitor Mohammad Soleimani from the gold medal bout against his Israeli opponent Gili Haimovitz, ostensibly because of an ankle injury.
Iran also had a standoff with Israel at the 2004 Athens Olympic judo competition, where another of their athletes refused to show up for a bout with an Israeli.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has threatened to withdraw from the London 2012 Olympic Games unless their female judo athlete, Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani is allowed to wear her headscarf.
The International Olympic Committee has been organising an urgent meeting with the Saudi Arabia national Olympic committee officials, the international judo federation, and London Olympic organisers to try and avert the Saudi withdrawal.
”Yes we have heard that the Saudis are not happy and we will have an urgent meeting, certainly in the next two days,” an IOC spokesperson told Telegraph Sport.
The issue is particularly sensitive as Rogge had spent many months personally interested in ensuring Saudi Arabian women were participating in the London Games after initial reticence by the Saudi royal family.
Saudi Arabia had been the only foreign country which appeared not to be sending any female athletes to the Games.
But just weeks ago the IOC announced that two female athletes would represent Saudi Arabia at the Games: Wujdan Shahrkhani in judo and Sarah Attar in track and field.
At the time the Saudis said the women could compete only if they were allowed to wear appropriate Muslim clothing.
But those plans were thrown into chaos on Thursday night when International judo Federation president Marius Vizer said Shahrkhani could not fight with a headscarf, because of safety concerns and “according to the principles and spirit of judo.”
Judo spokesman Nicolas Messner said the hijab could be dangerous because the sport involves strangleholds and chokeholds. However judo federations within Asia have previously allowed Muslim women to wear hijabs.
BDST: 1546 HRS, July 28, 2012
Chanchal Ghosh, Newsroom Editor
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