In world sporting competitions, champions almost always stand atop a podium while their national anthem plays…unless that champion is Israeli. Politics and the resistance of other nations to recognize Israel as a legitimate nation often leads to refusal by event organizers to acknowledge Israel by playing their national anthem.
For the most part, that has not been hugely noticed, as Israel has not historically been recognized as a nation of sports champions. However, several sports programs have developed nicely in recent years, and Israelis are beginning to gain prominence and recognition in those sports. Judo is one of those sports.
Earlier this week, Sagi Maki took home the gold in the World Judo Championships in Tokyo. Along the way, he defeated an Egyptian rival, who walked away, refusing to shake hands after the match; and ultimately stood atop the podium while the blue and white flag bearing the star of David was raised to the sound of HaTikvah (Israeli national anthem) filling the arena! It brought the judo hero to tears as he sang along.
CBN followed the story and posted video clips of triumphs, Egyptian disrespect and the medal ceremony here.
As Israeli athletes become more and more competitive in world competitions, it will be interesting to see how political influence impacts decisions whether or not to recognize the state of Israel. Meanwhile, pray that sports will be a bridge to develop relationships between nations, rather than further drive the wedge between Israel and others.
Congratulations Israel….and congratulations Sagi Maki!
UPDATE: The Times of Israel is reporting the defending world champion from Iran may have thrown his matches in order to avoid a match with the Israeli, and potentially standing on the podium with him as the Israel national anthem played. How sad is that.
That Iranian athlete is believed to now be seeking asylum in Germany.