When sports must be mixed with politics


Israel’s uncouth reaction to Malaysia’s decision to ban Israeli participation in the World Para Swimming Championships to be held in Sarawak this July is only to be expected of a genocidal and apartheid nation.

Describing the decision as one that is inspired by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “rabid anti-Semitism” further amplified the way the nation operates and positions itself in the international platform.

In a statement carried by major international media outlets, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon urged the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), which is organising the competition, to change the venue if it cannot persuade Malaysia to lift the ban.

He was further quoted as saying: “This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit.”

What is interesting are the reactions from two young Malaysians of standing on the issue.

First is Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman’s reaction in a statement in which he said: “Israel’s criticism of Malaysia politicising sports is an attempt to play the victim card.

“Has hypocrite Israel forgotten the ban they placed on Gaza’s Ittihad Al-Shejaiya football team from crossing into the West Bank to play the final match of the Palestine Football Cup? “Is that not politicising sports?”

Syed Saddiq cited several other instances of Israeli hypocrisy, including how Israel appointed itself as Palestine’s sporting guardians by deciding who was eligible to play against Palestinian athletes in their own country, or how they pressured the US National Basketball Association to exclude Palestine from its list last year.

“Where was the self-righteous, victim-playing, hypocrite Israel then? As the Malaysian youth and sports minister, I stand firm with our decision.”

Contrast that to Olympic Council of Malaysia (MOM) secretary general Mohd Nazifuddin Mohd Najib’s warning that barring Israeli athletes from the country may result in Malaysia losing the chance to host the championships and strain ties with international sporting bodies.

Speaking to news portal Free Malaysia Today, Nazifuddin, who is the son of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Najib Razak, said another country would likely be chosen to host the swimming tournament, while Malaysia’s relations with the IPC, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and International Swimming Federation (Fina), among others, would be affected.

He said the IOC had also voiced concern over Malaysia’s decision to stop hosting events involving Israel. Nazifuddin further said the IOC had stressed that Putrajaya’s stand against Israel went against the spirit of the Olympics, where sports should not be mixed with politics.

There are supporters for both views, either reflecting the political divide they are associated with or genuine opinions of concern on whether the stand taken is in the best interest of the nation or sports.

The popular sentiment that sports should not be mixed with politics should probably be confined within domestic leagues.

In so far as international sports is concerned, it had on numerous instances been used to influence the foreign policies of nations.

For that matter, Malaysia’s football team, which qualified for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, boycotted the games in protest of Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.

Lest people forget, apartheid South Africa was barred from participating in the Olympics on several occasions for its all-white policies. Of course, “rabid anti- Semitic” Dr Mahathir was equally “rabid anti-apartheid South Africa” on opposing South Africa’s presence in international bodies.

The collective bans, boycotts and sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid policies began as far back as in the early 1960s and only saw the end of it more than three decades later.

While one won’t expect to see Israel crumbling yet under the international condemnation and boycotts, succumbing to its demand to allow it to participate in international events is a dereliction of humanity.

That’s the least a nation like Malaysia can do — especially when some of the Western governments, probably suffering from the burden of guilt of the Holocaust, choose to turn a blind eye on the genocide committed by the Israelis on the Palestinians.

Sometimes, it is unimaginable that Israel, in these modern days, can commit all the crimes against humanity in Palestine and there are nations and organisations coming forward to defend their rights to international participation.

The boycotts, divestments and sanctions or BDS movement against Israel is nothing compared to what it had done to the Palestinians over the decades — systematically robbing them of their land, dignity and humanity, and at the same time placing them in the largest open prison in Gaza.

The narratives of Israel’s cruelties on the Palestinians are endless. It feels no remorse, nor guilt. It is a monstrous existence that has lost its humanity.

Indeed, banning it from entering Malaysia actually does not affect the country other than an opportunity for it to play the victim card and then solicit support from sympathetic nations.

As it is, there are demands from these nations that the venue of the championship be moved elsewhere merely to allow Israel’s participation.

Should Malaysia buckle under such pressure? Surely, it shouldn’t as it is doing the right thing.

And there’s always a price to pay for doing the right thing.

Shamsul Akmar is the editor at The Malaysian Reserve.