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Egyptian athlete booed for refusing to shake hands with Israeli opponent after judo loss

Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby, right, declines to shake hands with Israel’s Or Sasson after losing during the men’s 100-kilogram judo competition Friday. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

The Olympics are typically a time for the world to come together despite religious or political differences. That’s not always how it works, however. According to Associated Press reporter Rob Harris, a controversy over a handshake marred the men’s 100-kilogram judo competition Friday morning.

It is tradition for judokas to shake hands with each other after a bout, but Egypt’s Islam El Shehaby skipped that part of the program after swiftly losing to Israel’s Or Sasson in the Round of 32 event Friday. The crowd booed El Shehaby as he backed away from Sasson, who had stuck out his hand.

The two-time Olympian also failed to bow when initially leaving the mat but was called back by the referee, at which point the 34-year-old Egyptian gave a small nod, the Associated Press reports. Olympic officials say this was the worst of the two offenses and could result in “further action.”

“His attitude will be reviewed after the Games,” Olympics spokesman Nicolas Messner said in an email to the AP.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. At the 2012 Dusseldorf Grand Prix, Egypt’s Ramadan Darwish apparently refused to shake hands with his Israeli opponent, Arik Zeev.

The reasons for this are rooted in the long political and religious turmoil between the two nations that got fresh life in 2012 when Mohammed Morsi became Egypt’s president and the Muslim Brotherhood rose to prominence. Rhetoric against Israel’s mostly Jewish population increased sharply that year and has yet to subside.

Despite the rift, Olympics officials see the fact that an Egyptian and Israeli athlete even faced off with each other as a step in the right direction.

“This is already a big improvement that Arabic countries accept to [fight] Israel,” Messner said in an email to the AP.

El Shehaby, who won a bronze medal at the 2010 world championships in Tokyo, was reportedly heavily pressured on social media to refuse the fight, according to the Algemeiner Jewish newspaper, which cited Israeli sources, but ultimately decided to go through with it.

El Shehaby had yet to comment on Friday’s bout.