Israel’s critics often call the security barrier protecting Israelis from West Bank terrorists an “apartheid wall,” so it’s ironic that Lebanon’s judo team asked Olympic officials to put up a barrier to block out any view of the Israeli team. So much for the spirit of sportsmanship.
The Times of Israel provides the details:
The Lebanese judo team at the 2012 London Olympics refused to practice next to the Israeli one on Friday afternoon, and a makeshift barrier was erected to split their gym into two halves.
According to several Hebrew sports sites, the two teams were scheduled to use the same gym and mats at London’s new ExCeL center for their final preparations. However, the delegation from Lebanon would not train in view of the Israeli team, and insisted some sort of barrier be placed between them.
Organizers accepted the Lebanese coach’s demand to separate the teams, erecting a barrier so that the Lebanese team wouldn’t see the Israeli one.
Reuters reports the incident occurred after “Lebanon’s two judokas found themselves next to the five Israelis during practice at the official training venue in Redbridge, in east London.” Israeli Olympic Committee Spokesman Nitzan Feraro said:
“We started to practice. They came and they saw us – they didn’t like it and they went to the organizers,” Feraro told Reuters. “They put up some kind of wall between us. Everyone went on and there was no interaction between us.”
The Lebanese Olympic Committee could not immediately be reached for comment.
Organizers of the judo competition said there were always screens available so that competing athletes and their coaching staff would not be able to spy on each other’s training.
Just last week, Iranian judoka Javad Mahjoub said he would not be playing in the Olympics “due to a gut infection.” Because he was a team member with a chance of meeting an Israeli competitor on the mat, the sudden “illness” is being widely seen as an excuse cloaking an Israel boycott.
International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge has said that sanctions will be taken against any athlete who boycotts a competition for political reasons. CNS reports:
“We have just told all the national Olympic committees that we expect all the athletes to respect the schedule of competition and not to pull out without a good reason for competition against an athlete of another country,” Rogge told the London Guardian last month.
“If nation A does not appear at the competition against nation B we will ask for explanations,” he said. “If the explanation is not satisfactory and valid at the end of it and is not credible then we will go into cross-examination by an independent medical board. And if the medical board says it is not a genuine reason then sanctions will be taken. That is quite clear.”
Even when Middle Eastern nations have competed against Israel, the match hasn’t always been friendly. Last February, for example, Egyptian judoka Ramadan Darwish was called a “national hero” after refusing to shake his Israeli rival’s hand after defeating the Israeli, Arik Zeevi. Instead, Darwish yelled “Allahu Akbar” and walked away.
Because of the boycott pressures, Israeli athletes usually compete in European circuits, rather than regional ones.