Olympics-Judo-Algerian Nourine withdraws to avoid facing Israeli opponent

TOKYO, July 23 (Reuters) - An Algerian judoka has withdrawn from the Tokyo Olympics before his event starts, after the draw set him on course for a possible match-up against an Israeli.

Fethi Nourine told Algerian TV that his political support for the Palestinian cause made it impossible for him to compete against Tohar Butbul.

“We worked a lot to reach the Olympics, and the news came as a shock, a thunder,” he told the channel late on Thursday. Nourine said his decision was “final,” and he would not “get his hands dirty.”

The 30-year-old was due to face Sudan’s Mohamed Abdalrasool on Monday for his first match in the men’s 73 kg class. A victory would have paired him with Butbul - who has a first-round bye - in the next round.

It is not the first time that Nourine has withdrawn from competition to avoid facing an Israeli opponent. He pulled out of the 2019 world championships in Tokyo for the same reason.

“We were unlucky with the draw. We got an Israeli opponent and that’s why we had to retire. We made the right decision,” Nourine’s coach Amar Ben Yaklif was quoted as saying in Algerian media.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has dragged on for decades, with tensions flaring again this year as confrontations in contested Jerusalem triggering cross-border clashes.

Athletes from other countries, including Iran and Egypt, have also previously refused to compete against Israelis.

editing by John Stonestreet