(CNN)Two senior sporting officials from the United Arab Emirates have apologized after one of the country’s competitors refused to shake hands with an Israeli opponent at a judo tournament.
Politics threatened to overshadow sporting matters during this week’s Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam, given the UAE has no diplomatic ties with Israel and like most other Arab countries doesn’t recognize it as a state.
Five Israeli athletes won medals at the IPIC Arena, only to be greeted by the official music and flag of the International Judo Federation (IJF) while standing on the podium.
Compounding matters, a UAE athlete declined to shake hands with Israel’s Tohar Butbul — an eventual bronze medalist — following the pair’s first-round match on Friday.
But in a move branded “historic” by the IJF, Israel Judo Association President Moshe Ponte met this weekend with Mohammad Bin Thaloub Al-Darei, president of the UAE’s Judo Federation.
Ponte and Al-Darei “shared greetings and positive discussion,” according to the IJF, with UAE judo general secretary Naser Al-Tameemi also in attendance.
“This was a gesture of courage, humanity and respect for the sport” said IJF President Marius Vizer, who witnessed the meeting. “[They] apologized because of the UAE athletes not shaking hands with the Israel athletes and also congratulated the Israel team for their success here.”
Israel’s male half-lightweight judoka Tal Flicker found particular success at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam, beating several more established names to win gold.
But he made global headlines for altogether different reasons, singing Hatikvah alone atop the podium in the absence of his national anthem within the venue.
“It was weird,” Flicker told CNN Sport on Friday. “Israel is my country and I’m proud to be from Israel.
“I sang Hatikvah because I don’t know anything else. This is my anthem.”
Flicker and his 11 compatriots competing at the elite international event were forced to wear judogis (judo uniforms) without the typical identifying symbols of their nationality — despite the IJF reportedly contacting the president of the UAE Judo Federation insisting “all delegations … be treated absolutely equally.”
“Such delicate issues between countries, governments and nations cannot be solved overnight and cannot be solved through the sport immediately.”
Judo’s moral code, created by the sport’s founder Jigoro Kano, preaches a set of ethics encouraging friendship, courage and honor.
And Vizer concluded on a positive note, contending the IJF has made “important steps for the participation and recognition of the Israeli team” in recent years.
“Two years ago we achieved the first participation of an Israel team in Abu Dhabi,” he said. “Now it’s the second time, but with a much better approach. I hope in the near future we can achieve the best condition of participation for the Israel teams.
“I hope soon we can break down more barriers for more tolerance between countries and nations to express the real value of the sport, friendship unity and solidarity.”