Friday afternoon before the onset of Yom Kippur in China, senior Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela was in the final quarter of the Shenzhen tournament drawing a tie with his opponent. In the middle of a game he walked off saying that Yom Kippur is starting and that he wouldn’t play on Yom Kippur, thus forfeiting the potential to win $34,000 for the match and points on the international tennis ratings.
Sela is 70th in the world in tennis and foresaw the situation coming. He asked the tournament organizers to allow him to play his matches earlier. The organizers denied his request. Dudi began to play hoping for a fast victory but when he ended up in a tie he walked off the courts in the middle of a game, giving up the chance to win the game.
Dudi’s brother Ofer posted of his brother’s act of pride: “Dudi wasn’t obligated to leave the match but did it anyway. Not for anyone or any fear no one asked him to do this and he wasn’t doing it to gain favor in anyone’s eyes. He did it only because he respects Yom Kippur and the country whose flag he always represents.”
The Israeli Tennis Association responded to Dudi’s walking off the court saying: “The tennis association expresses its admiration for Dudi for his personal sacrifice and his being a source of pride for Israeli tennis the entire year.”
Dudi’s act is part of a noble string of similar acts by Jewish and Israeli athletes who were forced to play on Yom Kippur and didn’t. The most famous recent story was with 2 Israeli sailors that forfeited a prestigious medallion in the Seoul Olympics by missing a pivotal sailing competition on Yom Kippur.
In American history the name Sammy Koufax comes to mind for always skipping Yom Kippur games which were invariably either playoff or World Series games. Koufax was an all-star pitcher for 6 years was MVP and won 3 Cy Young Awards. Yet he decided not to pitch in the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur.
Just yesterday another Jewish athlete decided to play on Yom Kippur but he fasted though he was playing the rough sport of college football. His name is Jordan Ober and he plays for the University of Nebraska Huskers. They actually won against the university of Illinois ‘Fighting Illini’ 28-6.