That’s just reality. I remember when I first started doing jiu-jitsu back in the late 90s and I heard about the ADCC, my first reaction was, “I wonder if Jewish athletes are allowed to compete on this?” The truth is that sports should be apolitical, but in a time when we see Judokas from certain countries routinely refuse to compete against Israelis, there are some heartbreaking moments that have come out.
A while back I interviewed Haim Gozali, the first Israeli to compete at ADCC, a trailblazer and a pioneer, but the truth is that there is still a lot of work to be done to separate politics from our sport.
The other day, my mother showed me a video of a young Israeli taking gold in Abu Dhabi. “They stood for Hatikva,” she said with a big smile. As a Jewish-American jiujiteiro, this video meant the world to me. I reached out to Alon Leviev, the 17-year-old blue belt in the video for his thoughts on this huge moment.
“I have been practicing jiu-jitsu since I was four years old,” said Leviev. “My dad signed me up for a class and I started training. I train in Ramat Gan at Pro Fighter Academy and we are part of Soul Fighters Israel. For me, hearing the Israeli national anthem anywhere is special, but in Abu Dhabi was much more. It shows the world that jiu-jitsu isn’t about politics. I was very happy that we were able to fight there and do what we love to do, leave all the politics behind.”
Leviev has enjoyed a lot of success in competition this year collecting numerous gold medals, I was interested in his thoughts on the fast spread of the video of his ascent to the podium in Abu Dhabi and its potential implications in the efforts for lasting peace.
“I’m feeling good, but I don’t do this for virality, I do it for myself. Virality is nice, but for me, it doesn’t change too much, and of course won’t change me as a person.
“I think the implications depend on the people in the sport, on every single fighter, and how they look at it. I, for example, think that nationality does not matter and we are all the same. I can be born in Israel and in Abu Dhabi, it does not matter, we are all the same. But other people may not think like me, and don’t agree with that. But for me it is a vehicle for some sort of peace.”
As for Alon’s shout-outs and thank you’s:
“On this occasion I would like to thank my coach, Eli Poplinger, and all the team Soul Fighters Israel. Also a shout out to the Israeli Jiu-Jitsu Federation and to the Ayelet Federation for all the help and support.”
If you want to follow Alon’s continued endeavors in the sport, you can check out his Instagram.