Arab nations debate whether to compete against Israel
Eight years after Iranian world judo champion forewent medal to avoid meeting Israeli on the mat, Egypt and Algeria are preparing for possibility that lottery could place their athletes against Israeli competitors. 'We should stand on the podium and salute the Israeli flag?'
As the opening of the London Olympics approaches, and Israel is concerned that its athletes might be the target of a terror attack, some Arab states are more worried not only that the lottery will pit their athletes against Israeli competitors, but also that their representatives will have to stand next to Israelis on the podium if they win a medal.
In Egypt, those who support competing against Israel have recently become embroiled in a debate with those who see facing off against Israelis as a normalization of relations with "the Zionist entity."
- IOC: Athletes cannot refuse to compete against Israelis
- Tunisian boy boycotts Israeli athlete in chess tournament
- Iran swimmer: Withdrawal wasn't political
A member of the board of directors of the Egyptian soccer club Zamalek said: "There is a good chance that Egyptian players will meet Israelis. Our opponents must withdraw immediately, since this is a political issue… no Egyptian or Arab will be willing to compete against Israel, even if international agreements are in place."
Israel's Olympic delegation (Photo: Haim Tzach)
The board member's declaration is diametrically opposed to the position of the Egyptian Olympic Committee, whose director, Ahmed al-Fuli, said in an interview on a sports program that "we have issued instructions to all members of the Egyptian delegation to take part in matches with Israeli athletes. Egyptian competitors will not run from competition. They will take part and try to win."
"The Olympic platform is very strict about this," al-Fuli said. "It warns any state (withdrawing) in such a situation will be suspended, and could face sanctions, including a ban on taking part in future competitions."
Algeria is also debating the issue. Rashid Hanifi, head of the nation's Olympic Committee, denied in a press conference that the Algerian government had instructed its athletes to boycott matches with Israeli athletes.
Hanifi said that a senior member of the International Olympics Committee had called him for a clarification regarding rumors of a planned boycott of Israeli athletes at the games. "The question of competing against Israel isn't a personal one. If an athlete decides to boycott an Israeli (competitor), he must bear the consequences," he said.
Haled Bin Ismail, head of Algeria's coordinating committee for the fight against "Zionist expansion and normalization with Israel," said that if a competition between an Israeli athlete and an Algerian one ended with an Israeli victory, it would embarrass Algeria "because the athlete would have to ascend the podium and salute the Israeli flag as medals are distributed. This in itself would be considered recognition of the State of Israel."
Boycotts of Israeli athletes in international competition are not without precedent. In 2004, Israeli judoka Udi Wax was slotted to compete against then-world champion, Iran's Arash Mirasmaeili, but the latter initially refused to play as a demonstration of "solidarity with Palestinian suffering."
Mirasmaeili did show up on the morning of the match, but did not make weight, "disqualifying" himself from the competition while saving himself from allegations of poor sportsmanship.
In 2006, Iran withdrew from the World Judo Championships to avoid a match with Israel, whose team included Arik Zeevi and Yoel Razbozov. A year later, Iranian referee Ahmed Kaspandi declined to referee a match in which an Israeli player was participating, and was removed from duty.