Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Israeli athletic discrimination

I realized that this blog won't be updated often enough if it only focuses on my training, so I figured I'd expand my repertoire a bit. Sorry-- It's a long one.

When I was young, I used to believe in the ideal that sports were separate from politics. Indeed, even today, one of my favorite people and closest friends in skeleton is Faisal Faisal, a slider from Iraq. Still, I understand that apart from these unique occurrences, politics mixes in sports all too often. It is for this reason that I find it even more important to represent my country with both dignity and excellence.

This mix of politics and sports often goes unpunished (or not dealt with (even close to) harshly enough) when it has to do with the World's go-to punching bag, Israel. Lets ignore the fact that the Nazi Olympics were even allowed to happen-- That was before the founding of the State. Instead, lets skip forward a few years to 1972.

Eleven Jewish athletes are taken hostage and killed during the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Why were the games allowed to continue? Even worse, why is there, to this date, no official recognition by the IOC of the event in any official ceremonies? If it were American or Russian athletes, would the result be the same? I doubt it.

Moving forward...
2003- World Table Tennis Championships: Saudi and Yemeni players refuse to face Israeli opponent. There is no repercussion for this blatant violation of the "sanctity" of the separation of politics from sports.

2004- Athens Olympics- Judo: An Iranian athlete does not make weight and then says he would have refused to compete against an Israeli athlete anyway. Instead of so much as a statement of protest to the Iranian National Olympic Committee, the IOC remains silent. The Iranian athlete is awarded an $115,000 prize from the Iranian government.

A similar situation occurred in 2008, when Iranian swimmer Mohammad Alirezaei claimed that he was too ill to swim in a heat that included an Israeli swimmer. Iran’s refusal to compete against Israelis even extended to the 2008 Paralympics; its wheelchair basketball team forfeited a game against the United States because it could have faced Israel if it won.

Libya, in their bid for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, were not reprimanded for the fact that their bid explicitly stated that all qualified nations would be invited, except Israel.

The Israeli soccer federation was expelled from the Asian Football Confederation in 1974 because many member countries, most of them in the Middle East, had refused to play against the Israelis. Israel currently plays in the European confederation, with little chance of it returning to the AFC soon.

So why bring this up now? It's not really new news. Well, to my utter shock and surprise (note the sarcasm), it's happened again.

Last year, Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram were denied entry into Dubai for one of the largest tennis tournaments of the year. The UAE cited "security" and was warned by the international tennis federation that if this "issue" was not resolved by this year, it would be grounds to ban Dubai from hosting international tennis events.

Nevertheless, the UAE again announced this year that Shahar Peer, an Israeli player, would not be allowed entry. Surprise!!! The international federation for tennis made the same empty threat it did last year, and didn't follow on its promise to reprimand the UAE (I am still waiting for them to issue an official statement about the future of the UAE as a tournament host). To their credit, the Tennis channel (and probably only because a Jew is its president) has refused to cover the event in protest. Also to their credit, the Wall St. Journal removed themselves as a sponsor for the event. Sadly, these are the only acts of protest that I have seen. An Israeli athlete has been unfairly discriminated against again and the world has largely remained silent. Oh sure, other players say that they "sympathize" with Shahar and "condemn" this move on the part of the UAE, but none have even threatened to boycott. Moreover, Shahar could unfairly lose her world ranking to another athlete who was allowed entrance. I sincerely hope that the tennis federation will do something about this, but I am not holding my breathe. As history suggests, there will be some empty words thrown around and the whole thing will be brushed under the rug.

Here's the part that really gets me, though. Israel has over a million Arab citizens--people who live in Israel, and carry full citizenship to the State of Israel with equal in legality to that of any Jewish citizen. We even have Arab members of parliment. The thing that bothers me about this situation is that if Shahar was an Israeli Arab, would she have been banned from the tournament? I am willing to garuntee that she would not have been.

Jim Litke of The Associated Press criticizes the WTA for failing to take decisive action against the Dubai tournament, writing that it is part of a larger failure by sporting organizers to defend Israeli athletes against discrimination.

“Every time a team or athlete from a neighboring Middle East state refuses to meet their Israeli counterparts on a playing field, the people who sanction the event … pretend to be shocked,” he writes. “Then they promise the next time it happens, they’ll bite the hand that feeds them. Then they do what they always do: take the money and kick the Israelis down the road.”

Michael Freund argues in the Jerusalem Post that the WTA should have cancelled the tournament. “Indeed, what is truly ‘regrettable’ is that both the WTA and the players themselves did not put principle before prize money,” he writes. “Dubai essentially hung a large ‘No Jews Allowed’ sign over center court, but that didn't seem to bother anyone enough to cancel the tournament.”

With the UAE gunning to be the world's next major sporting hub, it should be interesting to see whether the world decides to force the UAE to change its policies, or simply standy by idly while this blatnet discrimination continues.

Fortunately for me, there are no bobsled tracks in the UAE, and it's far too warm there to ever build one... although they do want to build an indoor ski/winter wonderland... let's hope they dont have room for a track!


Eric Cressey said...

This is a great post.

Aliyah's Dad said...

Very thoughtful and well written, I hope someone out there is listening.

Alicia S. said...

You write with a clear and distinct voice about a very important issue. I am embarrassed to say, since I am an American Jew, I was totally unaware of this issue. Where is the press coverage? Why isn't this on the national news 6 o'clock report when it happens?
Omri, thank you for putting this out there to educate and to seek justice. B'shalom, Alicia