Israeli Athletes Encounter Hostility At Rio Olympic Games

  • August 8, 2016

The Olympic games, currently taking place in Rio, aim to bring together the best athletes from around the world in the spirit of promoting peace and unity through competitive sports. For Israelis, however, the Olympics will forever be tainted by the 1972 Munich games, where 11 Israeli athletes were brutally murdered by Palestinian terrorists. These days, anti-Israel violence at the Olympics has been replaced by politics, with representatives from countries hostile to Israel going to great lengths to avoid any interaction with Israeli athletes.

On Friday, members of the Israeli Olympic delegation were physically blocked from boarding an opening-ceremonies bound bus by the head of the Lebanese delegation, apparently because he didn’t want his team to ride with Israelis. The Lebanese Minister of Youth and Sport praised the delegation head, whose actions were lauded in the Lebanese media, saying his actions were “principled and patriotic.” Following the incident, the head of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee was rebuked by the Olympic organizers.

Israeli Olympic Team

On Sunday, Saudi Judo fighter Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round match against Christianne Legentil of Mauritius in order to avoid facing Israeli Gili Cohen in the next round (who Fahmy would have faced if she had defeated Legentil). The Saudi Olympic team tweeted that Fahmy withdrew because of “injuries” to her arms and legs, but the Israeli press reported that Fahmy was in fact not hurt and dropped out to avoid competing against Cohen.

A similar incident occurred during the 2012 London Olympics, when Iranian judo champion Javad Mahjoub, who was scheduled to face Israeli Arik Ze’evi, withdrew from competition, claiming health concerns. Mahjoub had previously acknowledged throwing matches to avoid competing against Israeli athletes.

In recent years, countries hostile to Israel, including Kuwait and Malaysia, have denied Israeli athletes visas to participate in international sporting competitions. The most infamous case was from 2009, when the United Arab Emirates denied Israeli tennis player Shahar Pe’er a visa to compete in an international tennis tournament in Dubai. A number of important tennis figures, including Venus Williams and Andy Roddick (who dropped out in protest), publicly condemned the UAE decision, and Pe’er was allowed to compete the following year, albeit with heavy restrictions.