The IOC has sent home an Egyptian judoka for refusing to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent. This was an important move, because it shows that there is no room for discrimination in Olympics, writes Joscha Weber.
The Olympic Games are a festival of youth, which is meant to unite people, to uphold the values of friendship, solidarity and fair play. It is also meant to bring the world together in peace, free from any form of discrimination. This is what it says in the Olympic Charter. Unfortunately, not everybody understands this.
The Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby is a case in point. He refused to shake the hand of his Israeli opponent, Or Sasson, and was sent home by the International Olympic Committee. Despite the fact that El Shehaby's Olympic tournament was over anyway, this was a correct and important decision, because it demonstrated that there is no place for discrimination at the Olympic Games.
The Olympic Games are entirely about sports
No athlete is to be insulted, excluded or otherwise treated unfairly based only upon his or her background. In this particular case, Or Sasson approached his opponent and extended his hand towards him, but the only response was "hate in his eyes." El Shehaby's snub of his Israeli opponent was nothing personal, it was strictly about politics. The political tensions that have existed for many decades between Israel and neighboring Egypt are no secret. However, this is no excuse to allow these to be played out on the judo mat. The Olympic Games are meant to be entirely about sports.
The sending home of El Shehaby is also significant because this was not the first anti-Israeli incident to occur at these Games. The first came ahead of the opening ceremony, when the Lebanese team refused to travel to the stadium in the same bus as the Israelis. The head of the Lebanese delegation went as far as to physically prevent the Israelis from boarding the bus. Not just that, but Joud Fahmy of Saudi Arabia declined to take part in her judo tournament, claiming that she was injured, because otherwise she would have been forced to compete against Gili Cohen of Israel. Anybody who can't deal with the fact that Israeli athletes are as a matter of course among those present at this world festival of sports should just stay home in the first place. Anybody who qualifies for the Games has earned the right to compete, no matter what his or her background is.
Bach's missed opportunity
Cases of discrimination, including against Israel, are nothing new in the history of the Olympics. Then-Iranian President Mohammad Khatami declared the judoka Arash Miresmaeili to be the "pride of the country" when he boycotted his match against Ehud Vaks of Israel at the 2004 Olympics. Because things have not changed since then, it is time for the IOC to be more forceful in its actions. International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Thomas Bach missed the opportunity to speak about - or even to condemn the latest cases of discrimination, when he spoke at a ceremony to honor the Israeli athletes killed at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. Only by punishing such inacceptable behavior as that of El Shehaby, will the IOC be able to make it clear to every last athlete that sports are not a platform for discrimination.