Sports Boycotts & Apartheid

From South Africa to Israel

During this summer’s Tokyo Olympics, Algerian Fethi Nourine was slated to battle Israeli Tohar Butbul in judo. Before the bout, Nourine withdrew in protest of Israeli policies, expressing support for Palestinians. “We worked a lot to reach the Olympics but the Palestinian cause is bigger than all of this,” he stated. Nourine and his trainer were recalled by Algeria, suspended by the International Judo Foundation, and will likely face additional punishment.

Days later a second judoka, Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool, also withdrew from a bout against Butbul. Although Abdalrasool’s reasoning remains unclear, the withdrawals recall the era of anti-apartheid activism and the actions of the sports boycotts taken against South Africa. Like Nourine’s latest example, past athletes, teams, international sporting bodies, and anti-apartheid campaigners leveraged sports in their refusal condone apartheid policies, enabling South Africa’s ostracization.

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Jack Delaney is a former policy analyst. He worked on issues relating to health care, disability, and labor policy, and is a member of the National Writers Union. 

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