Tal Flicker has claimed “sport should overcome all the politics” as he prepares to compete on home turf at the upcoming European Judo Championships in Tel Aviv in Israel.
The 25-year-old is one of the 400 athletes from 44 different countries set to compete at the three-day event, w hich is scheduled to begin tomorrow and take place at the Tel Aviv Convention Center.
In October of last year, Flicker claimed the men’s under 66 kilograms gold medal on the opening day of the International Judo Federation (IJF) Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, but the Israeli judoka was forced to compete under the governing body’s flag.
In the build-up to the event in the United Arab Emirates, reports claimed athletes from Israel would not have their anthem played should they triumph in an event.
It came with the UAE not having any diplomatic relations with Israel and not recognising the country.
Flicker stood on the podium for the medal ceremony, before singing Israel’s national anthem Hatikvah, while the IJF’s played in the IPIC Arena.
“I think it is the same feeling; it is still bittersweet,” Flicker told CNN Sport ahead of the European Judo Championships.
“Of course, winning a gold medal at a Grand Slam was very sweet but, at the same time, sport and politics should not mix.
“I think sport should overcome all the politics.”
He added: “I’m very excited to compete in Israel.
“It’s going to be an amazing event.
“I hope we will have more.
“People don’t know how beautiful Israel is and how much we love judo, so I think everyone is going to enjoy it.”
This year marks the first time that the European Judo Championships will be held in Israel.
The event is the last one for the continent’s elite athletes before Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020 begins.
Moshe Ponte, the President of the Israel Judo Federation, told CNN Sport he sees it as an opportunity to showcase the country on the 70th anniversary of its declaration of independence.
“We are delighted to have the opportunity to organise these important Championships,” he said.
“We firmly believe that a judo tournament should be a positive experience for all participants sportsmen, coaches, staff and audience alike.”
EJU President Sergey Soloveychik expressed his hope that the Championships will bring participants “a lot of positive emotions and bright impressions”.
“I cordially thank the host city of Tel Aviv and the Israeli Judo Federation for the great work done in preparing this event,” he said.
“I wish good luck, strong health and success to all at this joyful event.”
The first day of the event will see the five lightest weight categories take centre stage.
For the women, it will be the under 48kg, under 52 kg and under 57 kg, while for the men, it will the under 60kg and under 66kg.
Ukraine’s Daria Bilodid and Kosovo’s Majlinda Kelmendi, the reigning European champions in the women’s under 48kg and under 52kg categories respectively, are among the leading names that will be absent from the event.
The majority of the top five athletes in the world rankings will be vying for honours, however.
Watch all the latest judo action on Judo WATCH ONLINE NOW.