Boycotts of Israel in sports

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Boycotts of Israel in sports refer to various disqualifications and denial of Israeli athletes. As part of a more or less systematic boycott of Israel, Israeli athletes and teams have been barred from some competitions. In many international competitions, where Israel does take part, such as the Olympic Games, some Arab and Muslim competitors avoid competing against Israelis.[1] Some countries, most notably Iran, even compel their athletes not to compete against Israelis or in Israel.[2][3]

Contemporary examples[edit]

The Israel Football Association was a member of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) group of FIFA between 1954 and 1974. Because of the Arab League boycott of Israel, several Arab and Muslim states refused to compete against Israel. The political situation culminated in Israel winning the 1958 World Cup qualifying stage for Asia and Africa without playing a single game, forcing FIFA to schedule a playoff between Israel and Wales to ensure the Israeli team did not qualify without playing at least one game (which Wales won). In 1974, Israel was expelled from the AFC group by a resolution initiated by Kuwait, which was adopted by AFC by a vote of 17 to 13 with 6 abstentions.[4] To get around the ban, Israel was admitted as an associated member of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in 1992, and was admitted as a full member of the UEFA group in 1994. Supporters of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement have advocated for Israel to be expelled or suspended from FIFA, without success.[5] On 24 August 2018, the President of the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) Jibril Rajoub was fined CHF 20,000 (US$20,333) and banned from FIFA matches for a year for inciting hatred and violence against an Argentinian team proposing to play a friendly match in Israel.[6]

The 1976 Chess Olympiad was held in the Israeli city of Haifa, which generated controversy, since several countries, such as the Soviet Union and the Arab nations, did not recognize the state of Israel. As FIDE refused to change the venue, the Soviet team boycotted the tournament in protest, as did all Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe and FIDE member Arab nations, which held an alternative Chess Olympiad in the Libyan city of Tripoli.[7][8]

In 2007, Mushir Salem Jawher, a Kenyan-born marathoner, lost his Bahraini citizenship after competing in the Tiberias Marathon in Israel, but later that year reacquired Bahraini citizenship and competed again in the Tiberias Marathon in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

In 2009, there was an increased number of boycotts and boycott campaigns against Israeli athletes over Operation Cast Lead. Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa to participate in a tournament in Dubai, leading to comments from stars like Serena Williams and Andy Roddick that were critical of the Dubai authorities' decision, with Roddick later pulling out of a tournament in Dubai. After a response that included a cable network cancelling its coverage of the event and a large fine for the Dubai Tennis Authorities, the United Arab Emirates did issue a visa for Israeli tennis player Andy Ram to compete that year. Campaigners in New Zealand asked Peer to heed the BDS call and not participate in local NZ tournaments, but Peer publicly dismissed them and the officials welcomed Peer's participation.

Tennis authorities in Malmö, Sweden wanted to cancel a Davis Cup match between Israel and Sweden because of anti-Israel riots and because the city council did not want the Israeli team competing in the city. The tennis authorities were unwilling to accept a Swedish forfeit, which would have eliminated Sweden from the competition, and decided to bar spectators from the match instead (Israel ended up knocking Sweden out of the 2009 tournament with a 3–2 series victory). As a punishment, the city was banned from hosting Davis Cup matches for five years and fined thousands of dollars.[9]

Supporters of the BDS movement also tried and failed to have Israeli teams barred from the 2012 London Olympics and the 2016 Rio Olympics. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, Egypt's Islam El Shehaby provoked outrage after refusing to shake hands with Israeli judoka, Or Sasson.[10]

Despite the country's international political issues, a growing[vague] number of Arab athletes are joining domestic Israeli sports teams and the international teams, including the Israel national football team. These include Rifaat Turk, Najwan Ghrayib, Walid Badir, Salim Toama, Abbas Suan, amongst others. Another Arab-Israeli, Johar Abu Lashin, born in Nazareth, was an IBO Welterweight champion.

In October 2017, when an Israeli Tal Flicker won gold in an international judo championship in the United Arab Emirates, officials refused to fly the Israeli flag and play the Israeli national anthem, instead playing the official music of the International Judo Federation (IJF) and flying the IJF's logo.[10] The UAE also banned Israeli athletes from wearing their country's symbols on uniforms,[10] having to wear IJF uniforms. Other contestants such as Gili Cohen received similar treatment. In December 2017, seven Israelis were denied visas by Saudi Arabia to compete in an international chess tournament.[11] In October 2018, the UAE reversed its position allowing the Israeli flag be displayed and anthem played when an Israeli judoka Sagi Muki won a gold medal.[12]

On 24 May 2018, a team of international jurists, including Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, announced a plan to petition the international Court of Arbitration for Sport against the exclusion of Israel's flag and anthem at sporting events in Arab countries.[13] In July 2018, the International Judo Federation cancelled two grand slam judo events, in Tunis and Abu Dhabi, because Israeli flags were not allowed to be raised.[14] Also in July 2018, the World Chess Federation said it will ban Tunisia from hosting the international chess competition in 2019 if it does not grant a visa to Israeli contestants, including a seven-year-old Israeli girl champion.[15]

In June 2018, Argentina cancelled a planned football friendly against Israel. The game was originally due to be played in Haifa, but was moved to the contested city of Jerusalem. Palestinians saw this as politicising the match, as the stadium it was due to be played in sits on the site of a former Palestinian village. Israeli Minister of Culture Miri Regev denied that the game was being politicised by the move, but was being moved to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Israel. International pressure grew on Argentina to call off the game, led by the BDS campaign and the Palestinian Football Association. Threats were also made against Argentine players. The match was called off, with Argentina giving the reason as security concerns. The BDS campaign and Palestinian FA claimed a victory, with campaign group Avaaz thanking Argentina for their "brave ethical decision". Argentine Striker Gonzalo Higuain said they had "finally done the right thing", while Argentine Foreign Minister Jorge Faurie said he believed his country's footballers "were not willing to play the game", but also compared the threats his country's players received as "exceeding of (those of) ISIS." Israel's Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman responded to the cancellation of the match by calling the BDS campaign "a pack of anti-Semitic terrorist supporters" and claimed that the Argentines couldn't "withstand the pressure of the Israeli-hating inciters". Culture Minister Regev blamed threats on Lionel Messi for the cancellation of the friendly match.[16][17]

On 18 January 2019, Israel called upon the International Paralympic Committee to move the World Para Swimming Championships scheduled for Malaysia in July 2019 because it has refused to let Israelis participate.[18][19] 10 days later, the IPC confirmed that due to Malaysia's actions regarding Israeli visas, the championships would be stripped from Malaysia and moved to another location. The IPC board said Malaysia “failed to provide the necessary guarantees that Israeli Para swimmers could participate, free from discrimination, and safely in the Championships”, including full compliance with the IPC protocols related to anthems and flags.[20]

In March 2019, the Israeli national anthem was played in Qatar after Israeli gymnast Alexander Shatilov won the gold medal for the floor exercise during the 2019 FIG Artistic Gymnastics World Cup series.[21] The anthem had previously been played in Abu Dhabi in October 2018, after Israeli judoka Sagi Muki won the gold medal in the Judo Grand Competition.[22]

In August 2019, Iranian judoka Saeid Mollaei refused to withdraw from a match at the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo which would have required, had he won, to compete against an Israeli judoka Sagi Muki in the final. Though he lost, and so did not need to compete against the Israeli, Mollaei feared returning to his country and sought political asylum in Germany.[2] Following the episode, the International Judo Federation (IJF) suspended Iran from competing in any future judo competition.[23] Later on, Egyptian judoka Mohamed Abdelaal refused to shake hands with Israeli Sagi Moki in the same championship.[24] In October 2019, two Iranian teenagers also refused to play Israelis in a chess tournament.[23] On 17 November 2019, the Israeli national anthem was played and Israeli flag flown in Abu Dhabi when 17-year-old Alon Leviev took gold in the junior category at the Ju-jitsu World Championship.[25] In December 2019, Alireza Firouzja, the world's second-highest rated junior chess player, applied to renounce his Iranian citizenship over pressures on Iranian athletes to forego matches with Israeli competitor, the second Iranian sports figure in recent months to do so.[26]

In early November 2019, the BDS movement sought the cancellation of a soccer match between the national teams of Argentina and Uruguay scheduled to be held in Tel Aviv, Israel.[27] The match took place on 19 November.

In November 2020, the International Chess Federation (FIDE) warned the Iranian Chess Federation (ICF) that it could be facing an imminent international ban for its continued refusal to allow Iranian chess players to compete against their Israeli equivalents.[28]

In July 2021, Algerian judo athlete Fethi Nourine withdrew from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics rather than face an Israeli competitor. The International Judo Federation (IJF) temporarily suspending Nourine and his coach.[29]

Individual sporting boycott[edit]

Since the 21st century, Israeli athletes competing in tournaments have faced boycotts by athletes from Muslim countries (primarily Iran), speculated to be the result of political interferences.

Iran[edit]

Date Retired athlete's name Israeli athlete's name Sport type Event Official reason for retiring Ref
17 February 2001 Hamed Malekmohammadi Yoel Razvozov judo 2001 World Judo Championships [30]
15 August 2004 Arash Miresmaeili Ehud Vaks judo 2004 Summer Olympics [31]
22 June 2003 Iran national five-a-side soccer team Israel national five-a-side soccer team soccer 2003 Special Olympics World Summer Games [32]
4 August 2005 Iran U-21 men national basketball team Israel U-21 men national basketball team basketball FIBA Under-21 World Championship Visa issues [33]
28 January 2007 Ahmad Ksanfandi (referee) Gal Yekutiel judo 2007 Tbilisi judo Open [34]
18 September 2007 Mehdi Mohammadi Ilia Shafran amateur wrestling 2007 World Wrestling Championships [35]
10 August 2008 Mohammad Alirezaei Tom Be'eri swimming 2008 Summer Olympics Indigestion [36]
28 July 2009 Mohammad Alirezaei Michael Malul swimming 2009 World Aquatics Championships [37]
30 September 2009 Mohammad Hossein Ebrahimi Tomer Or fencing 2009 World Fencing Championships [38]
1 October 2009 Ali Fadja Slava Zingerman fencing 2009 World Fencing Championships Retired from entire competition [38][39]
1 October 2009 Mohammad Mohazzabnia Tomer Hodorov tennis 2009 Kenya Futures F1 [40]
4 April 2010 Iran youth national volleyball team Israel youth national volleyball team volleyball 2010 International Volleyball Tournament Pordenone [41]
10 April 2010 Meisam Bagheri Moty Lugassi taekwondo A-Class Belgian Open 2010 [42][failed verification]
28 April 2010 Iran men's national table tennis team Israel men's national table tennis team table tennis 2011 Luxembourg Table Tennis championship [43]
21 May 2010 Ali Shahhosseini Misha Zilberman badminton 2010 Spanish Open [44]
15 August 2010 Mohammad Soleimani Gili Haimovitz taekwondo 2010 Summer Youth Olympics [45]
4 November 2010 Hamed Sayyad Ghanbari Maor Hatoel fencing 2010 World Fencing Championships [46]
4 November 2010 Mohammad Hossein Ebrahimi Kobi Hatoel fencing 2010 World Fencing Championships [46]
5 November 2010 Hamed Sedaghati Ido Herpe fencing 2010 World Fencing Championships [47]
5 November 2010 Sadegh Abedi Grigori Beskin fencing 2010 World Fencing Championships [47]
24 July 2011 Mohammad Alirezaei Gal Nevo swimming 2011 World Aquatics Championships Tiredness [48]
20 August 2011 Iran men's national volleyball team Israel men's national volleyball team volleyball 2011 Summer Universiade [49]
11 September 2011 Ghasem Rezaei Robert Avanesyan amateur wrestling 2011 World Wrestling Championships [50]
18 September 2011 Javad Mahjoub Or Sasson judo World Cup Tashkent 2011 [51]
10 October 2011 Shervin Tolouei Oren Bassal fencing 2011 World Fencing Championships [52]
5 November 2011 Kaveh Mehrabi Misha Zilberman badminton 2011 Puerto Rico International Challenge [53]
21 July 2015 Saber Hoshmand/Abbas Pourasgari Sean Faiga/Ariel Hilman beach volleyball 2015 FIVB Grand Slam Yokohama injury [54]
27 January 2017 Majid Hassaninia Jonathan Giller karate 21st Open de Paris – Karate Premier League "what is of paramount importance to every Iranian athlete is his/her beliefs plus support for the defenseless Palestinian nation" [citation needed]
25 November 2017 Alireza Karimi Uri Kalashnikov wrestling 2017 World U23 Wrestling Championship Lost prior match at instruction of coach. [55]
2 October 2018 Hossein Vafaei Eden Sharav snooker 2018 European Masters [56]
10 December 2018 Hossein Vafaei Eden Sharav snooker 2018 Scottish Open [56]
19 April 2019 Alireza Firouzja Or Bronstein chess GRENKE Chess Open [57]

Elsewhere[edit]

Date Country origin Retired athlete's name Israeli athlete's name Sport type Event Official reason for retiring Ref
26 July 2001  Tunisia Sadok Khalki Arik Zeevi judo 2001 World Judo Championships [58]
6 July 2006  Indonesia Indonesia Fed Cup team Israel Fed Cup team tennis 2006 Fed Cup [59]
19 July 2007  Kuwait Mohammed al Ghareeb Amir Weintraub tennis 2007 Togliatti challenger Stomach problems [60]
15 August 2008  Syria Bayan Jumah Anya Gostomelsky swimming 2008 Summer Olympics [61]
7 February 2010  Kuwait Kuwait men's national pool team Israel men's national pool team pool 2010 Hanover world team A championship Food poisoning of 4 players [62]
5 May 2011  Algeria Zakaria Chenouf Adam Sagir taekwondo 2011 World Taekwondo Championships [63]
1 October 2011  Algeria Meriem Moussa Shahar Levi judo World Cup Women Rome 2011 [64]
1 October 2011  Algeria Rahou Abdelmalek Artem Masliy boxing 2011 World Amateur Boxing Championships [64]
18 October 2013  Tunisia Malek Jaziri Amir Weintraub tennis 2013 Tashkent Challenger [65]
7 August 2016  Saudi Arabia Joud Fahmy Christianne Legentil/Gili Cohen judo 2016 Summer Olympics Sustained injuries to her arm and leg during training; ostensibly dropped out of match with Christianne Legentil of Mauritius to avoid match with Gili Cohen in next round [66]
28 January 2019  Kuwait Abdullah al-Anjari Eitan Seri-Levi[67] jiu-jitsu 2019 Los Angeles International Jiu-jitsu Open [68]
February 2019  Lebanon Nacif Elias Li Kochman judo Paris Grand Slam 2019 [69]
February 2019  Lebanon Ezzeddine Faraj taekwondo 2019 European Junior Championships [69]
March 2019  Lebanon Bassam Safadieh table tennis 2019 Table Tennis Mediterranean Championships U-15 [69]
25 September 2019  Lebanon Domenic Abounader Uri Kalashnikov[69] amateur wrestling 2019 World Wrestling Championships [70]
November 2019  Jordan Mohammed Eid Amir Assad kickboxing 2019 International Turkish Open Kickboxing European Cup [71]
3 June 2021  Jordan Osama Abu Jame Shmuel Ben Asor table tennis 2021 World Para Table Tennis Championships [72]
July 2021  Algeria Fethi Nourine Tohar Butbul judo Judo at the 2020 Summer Olympics – Men's 73 kg He withdrew from the previous round to avoid competing against an Israeli, as he had done before in the 2019 World Judo Championships in Tokyo against Butbul as well [73][74]
 Sudan Mohamed Abdalarasool He weighed in but didn't show up to the match [75]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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