The International Judo Federation issued an important announcement on September 3, one that bodes well for Israeli athletes. The federation disclosed that Israelis will be able to compete on equal terms at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam in the United Arab Emirates on October 25-27.
This is doubtless a step in the right direction.
At last year’s event, Israelis were considered “non-persons” in the sense that their nationality was deliberately buried by its organizers.
Israel’s five medal winners were forced to compete under the flag of the International Judo Federation rather than their own. And when they received their medals, Israel’s national anthem, Hatikva, was not played, prompting gold medal winner Tal Flicker to hum it.
That the International Judo Federation tolerated this egregious breach of civility and sportsmanship was a telling commentary on its values and ethics. It goes without saying that athletes should be treated fairly and equally at competitions.
Being hostile to Israel and supportive of moves to boycott it, the United Arab Emirates had no compunctions about humiliating the Israeli athletes. But after the federation stripped it from hosting two international tournaments due to its abject refusal to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes, the United Arab Emirates altered its anti-Israel policy and agreed to allow competitors from Israel to use Israeli symbols.
This means that Israelis will be able to compete under the banner of the Magen David and listen to the strains of Hatikva should they win a gold medal.
Responding to the United Arab Emirates’ belated decision, the federation praised that Arab nation for its “fair play” and its promotion of “peaceful relations between all nations of the world.”
As encouraging as the United Arab Emirates’ new and enlightened position may be, Israeli athletes continue to be blackballed by the Arab and Muslim worlds. As recently as 2017, Israeli chess players were denied entry into Saudi Arabia to compete in a world championship. Last April, four Israelis were banned from taking part in a world junior taekwondo tournament in Tunisia. In 2009, Shahar Peer, an Israeli tennis star, was barred from playing in Dubai.
In 1974, Israel was expelled from the Asian Football Federation, and to this day Israeli soccer squads must play in FIFA’s European group because Arab and Muslim teams boycott them.
There is obviously still a lot of work to be done to tear down these walls.
Sports competitions should be completely free of the rancor of politics, but obviously this is not the case. Israel, assisted by its friends, should continue to press for fair treatment at international sporting events.
Countries unable or unwilling to abide by this golden rule should be immediately disqualified from hosting internationally-sanctioned competitions.