On Saturday, 20-year-old Nili Block, an Israeli kickboxer, defeated her opponent, Marija Malenica of Croatia, in the finals for the women under 60 kilogram (132 pounds) category of the World Kickboxing Championship.
Block, who grew up in a religious household in Beit Shemesh, was ecstatic about winning the gold medal. “I controlled throughout the fight, she [Malenica] pushed me in the last round but the difference in points was too much for her,” Block told Ynet News. “I thank the Kickboxing Association for supporting me, my coach Benny Cogan, and my family and friends for their eternal love and encouragement.”
The tournament was not without incident, however. Reportedly, following Block’s win, a Palestinian judge refused to raise her hand in triumph, eventually allowing another judge to perform the task.
“The judge apologized and said publicly that he can not do something like that, or it would kill him,” Block told Ynet. “On one hand I understand it, on the other hand, if he denies us, how will we ever see change?”
Block’s coach, Benny Cogan, also commented on the matter, saying, “Poor guy, he felt threatened and feared being seen near Nili when the [Israeli] flag was raised.”
On Block’s win, Cogan said that it was a “tough fight to the end.”
“It is important to help Ayelet [the Federation of Non-Olympic Competitive Sport that supports the Israeli Kickboxing Federation], which cares for athletes and supports them with funding for flights, psychologists, doctors and the best scientists in sports,” he said. “You can clearly see the results since the organization was founded.”
The competition took place in Belgrade, Serbia. According to Ynet, aside from the incident involving the judge, the environment was ‘friendly’, unlike the Judo Grand Slam tournament that also took place this weekend in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. During the judo tournament, Israeli athletes Yarden Gerbi and Sagi Muki were forbidden from displaying their country’s flag, a prerequisite in order to obtain visas to enter the country, which does not have formal ties with Israel.
Gerbi, a former world champion, won a bronze medal in the women under 63-kilogram (138 pounds) weight class, while Muki, presently a European champion, won a bronze medal in the men under 73-kilogram (161 pounds) category.