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Monday, August 23, 2004

And Nobody Cries Foul

Boycotting Sports matches against Israel, with impunity

But facing the prospects of punishment, Mr. Miresmaeili turned coward. Just before his match against the Israeli, he seems to have binged on food, stuffing himself to the point that he no longer fit his weight class, earning an automatic disqualification. Rather than taking Mr. Miresmaeili to task for his stated political stunt, Olympics officials have accepted his highly contrived alibi. The Iranians will apparently pay no price for their transgression.

Unfortunately, this is a typical tale. Israel continually suffers sporting boycotts, and officials, Olympic and otherwise, continually turn a blind eye toward this injection of politics into sport.

Ever since Israel's founding, some Muslim nations have refused to compete against the Jewish state. In 1962, when Indonesia hosted the Asian Games, it chose to officially cancel the event rather than permit Israeli participation. After the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the boycott intensified and has come to permeate almost every venue. Earlier this year, for instance, Israeli fencers were initially not allowed to attend that sport's world cup in Jordan. Organizers feared that the mere presence of Israelis would cause the entire Muslim world to drop out. (Jordan ultimately caved in to international pressure and invited Israelis.) Even the mentally impaired have suffered this exclusion. At last year's Special Olympics in Ireland, both Saudi Arabia and Algeria refused to play Israel in soccer and table tennis.

Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia has been one of the leading proponents of the boycott. In 2002, Prince Sultan signed a letter endorsing an Arab Football Federation proposal to ban Israeli competition in all international soccer matches. And when the Saudi Nabeel Al-Magahwi refused to play an Israeli at the 2003 world table-tennis championship in Paris, he became a cause célèbre. "In addition to the great support I received from government officials, residents and expatriates, I have received a special certificate from the Palestinian President Yasser Arafat that I'm very proud of," Mr. Al-Magahwi told a news conference.

Even as the Bush administration has applauded Libya's baby steps toward reform, the Gadhafi family has been another boycott stalwart. Earlier this summer, it refused to let Israeli chess players attend the world championship in Tripoli. (Chess's governing body is affiliated with the International Olympic Committee.) Because the colonel's sons are sports fanatics, the country has aggressively lobbied to host other major events. But it dropped its bid to bring the 2010 soccer World Cup to Libya rather than provide the International Soccer Federation with assurances that Israeli players and fans would be granted visas.