The Olympic Games in Rio have begun and we have already seen the impact of Israel’s presence at the Games. We are yet to see Israel on the podium, but on Friday night their entrance into the Maracana Stadium was a moment of pride for all who support Israel and long to see the nation succeed on the world’s stage.
But for some, Israel’s presence is problematic. Whilst the Olympics are not immune to political undertones, it is an opportunity to put aside differences and embrace the kind of values that the Games seek to esteem. However, already the Games have brought to the surface hostile attitudes that have no place in our world, let alone the sporting arena.
For example, on Friday night the head of the Lebanese delegation refused Israelis to travel on the same bus as the Lebanese team to the opening ceremony, which resulted in Lebanon receiving a warning from the International Olympic Committee.
Then there was Saudi Arabian competitor Joud Fahmy who allegedly pulled out of the competition when it became possible for him to face Israel’s Gili Cohen in the next round.
But why is facing Israel such a problem? The reason is because by entering competition against an Israeli, the individual, and even the country they present, is recognising the State of Israel.
For example, in June, a Syrian boxer missed the opportunity to qualify for the Olympics by quitting the world boxing championship in Azerbaijan after he refused to compete against an Israeli rival.
The first round match between Syrian Ala Ghasoun and the Israeli fighter was scheduled to place at the tournament which is a precondition to qualifying for the upcoming 2016 Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro. His decision meant he could not compete in either the World Boxing Championships or the Rio Olympics.
“I quit the competition because my rival was Israeli, and I cannot shake his hand or compete against him while he represents a Zionist regime that kills the Syrian people,” Ghasoun said according to Arab media, The Jerusalem Post reported.
“If I fight against him, it would mean that I, as a athlete, and Syria, as a state, recognize the state of Israel,” Ghasoun added.
“The decision to quit was not mine,” the Syrian boxer said. “It was made by the Syrian Sports Federation and by senior Syrian officials. It was a very difficult decision, because I have worked hard to participate in the championship. But I serve my homeland – my honor and my loyalty belong to Syria.”
The problem that some have with facing Israel at the Olympics is not necessarily only the issue of competing with an Israeli person, it is because doing so gives recognition that the State of Israel exists.