The treatment Israeli and Jewish athletes are subjected to on the world stage is an international disgrace.
In a now all too familiar scene at the recent World Judo Championship semifinals in Tokyo, Egyptian athlete Mohamed Abdelaal refused to shake the hand of his opponent, Sagi Muki, because Sagi is a Jew from Israel. This is a tired act that has been going on for years but still manages to get minimal press coverage.
In our modern, politically-correct 21st century we still have had dozens of instances where competitors have refused to shake hands, gotten fake injuries, or pulled out of tournaments rather than acknowledge the existence of an athlete representing Israel. As the World Jewish Congress points out, this doesn’t even include other discriminatory tactics such as banning Israel from certain international sporting competitions, outright denying Israeli athletes visas to compete, and childish antics such as refusing to raise the flag of Israel or play its national anthem as they would for other nations.
As disturbing as are the slights, is that mainstream media, politicians, pundits, and sporting officials lack any urgency addressing the issue. In many ways we have made little progress since or perhaps regressed back to a similar mentality of that of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, where in the name of geopolitical harmony, the world looks the other way at blatant anti-Semitism.
For some countries, like Iran, it is a matter of policy to discriminate against Israeli athletes. Reza Salehi Amiri, former intelligence officer who is now president of his country’s National Olympic Committee, put it bluntly, “Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy.”
The irony of this, of course, is according to the Olympic Charter, one of its core principals is “to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” So much for that.
This anti-Semitism is directed not only to Israeli athletes nor coming only from non-Western countries. For years, teams with historical ties to Jewish fans and players have been treated to all sorts of heckling by the European football crowds, including charming taunts like “Sieg Heil” and Nazi salutes.
But if this is the first you’re hearing any of this, it is because discussing the subject seems to make people uncomfortable. This is clearly illustrated by the lack of media curiosity on the subject. The media may report the story, but you can bet the story will be buried on the back pages and is reported in a who, what, and where type of journalism, with no passion, outrage, or editorial condemnation. And when, if ever, have you last heard a political leader bring up the issue?
When these incidents happen, the good news is, for the most part, it generally isn’t condoned by the organization sponsoring the event, who will usually sanction the athlete and host country involved in the unsportsmanlike conduct. To this point, recently, at the World Para Swimming Championships, officials had to change the location from Malaysia because they refused to let Israelis participate. Also, European soccer clubs have made steps in recent years to reduce anti-Semitic behavior from its fans.
Of course, with all that is going on in the world it may seem silly to some to make a fuss about what is happening at sporting events. But sporting events are snapshots of society and a reflection of who we are. Right now, that reflection isn’t flattering.
Matthew Kastel is a 25-year veteran of working as an executive in the world of sports, including professional teams, organizations, and some of the largest vendors in the industry. Matt has also written two novels and teaches and lectures at universities on the business of sports. For more information you can visit his website at thirdstrikeproductions.com. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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