Four Qatari judokas are competing in the tournament, including Khalil Al Rabahi and Mohammed Al Rabahi (-81kg), Rida Nafwa (-100kg), and Saleha Al Badi (-57kg).
A group of spectators, the majority of which were school children, chanted Free Palestine and waved flags on the opening day of the 2023 World Judo Championships in Doha on Sunday.
“Free, free Palestine” echoed across the Ali Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah Arena in the Qatari capital as Israeli athlete Shira Rishony took to the mat for her first fight.
“All I said was free Palestine, I just wanted to tell the world that Palestine should be free,” Ali Al Qawasmeh, a former Judoka who once played for the Qatar Olympic team during high school said.
Al Qawasmeh was first to raise his Palestinian flag at the area and was pleasantly surprised to see some elementary school kids respond with “free Palestine chants”.
“I felt so proud and happy to see that the children in schools still have Palestine in their hearts. When they saw the Palestinian flag, they started to shout and they started to point at me, they were so happy and I was so happy as well that the new generations still remember Palestine and they have never forgotten it.”
As a former judo player, Al Qawasmeh told Doha News that he was there for numerous reasons. He enjoys watching Judo, and sees the championship as an opportunity to watch famous players compete.
News of Israel’s participation at the competition in Doha has spakred condemnation last month with prominent Qatar-based pro-Palestine group Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalisation (QAYON) urging authorities to suspend the judokas from the tournament.
However, as per policies by global sporting bodies, all host nations of such events are required to grant access without discrimination to its venues.
Al Qawasmeh recognised Qatar’s relentless support for Palestine.
“That’s what we saw in the World Cup a few months back, where everybody was raising the Palestine flag, Qataris and expats of all nationalities.”
Judokas compete for a spot in Paris Olympics
The pro-Palestine sentiment on Sunday occurred during the opening day of the World Judo Championships Doha 2023, in which experienced judokas will fight to accumulate points for their journey towards the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris next year.
Nearly 100 countries are represented by approximately 670 athletes who will be vying for glory, fully aware that their performances in Doha will contribute to their qualification for the 2024 Summer Games in Paris.
Each judoka has the opportunity to earn up to 2,000 points, the highest possible, for the Olympic ranking.
With 15 world titles at stake, including seven individual categories for both men and women, as well as a thrilling team event on the final day, the championships promise to be a captivating spectacle until the end of the tournament on May 14.
Over the course of the next few days, the event will witness a dynamic mix of reigning champions striving to defend their titles, emerging young athletes seeking their first world championship victories, and competitors looking to make their mark ahead of the forthcoming Olympic Games.
Among the reigning athletes was Japan’s Natsumi Tsunoda, who was the gold medalist at last year’s championship came to defend her title.
France’s Teddy Riner, who will be aiming for his 11th world title, is also one of the potential headliners at the eight-day event.
Four Qatari judokas are competing, including Khalil Al Rabahi and Mohammed Al Rabahi (-81kg), Rida Nafwa (-100kg), and Saleha Al Badi (-57kg).