Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Israel must show self-respect

An interesting dilemna has risen again, and as it does so often it is in the realm of sport. Israel's Fed Cup tennis team was drawn to host Indonesia in the World Group II playoffs set for July - but the team from the largest Muslim nation in the world is not planing on coming.
The Indonesian Tennis Federation said it would contact the International Tennis Federation on Wednesday to request that the tie be moved to a neutral site. Indonesia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, does not object to facing the Israeli side, but hopes to avoid needing to travel here.
Israel has met Indonesia twice before, winning both ties at neutral sites. In 1974, Israel Tennis Center CEO Janine Strauss made her Fed Cup debut, guiding the team to a 2-1 win in Naples, Italy, and Rakefet Binyamini and Orly Bialistozky teamed for a 3-0 sweep in 1981 in Tokyo.
Israel has conceded its position many times in sport. In recent years, the Israel national football team and local club teams were forced to play their 'home' games in Cyprus and other places in Europe. The reason behind the moving of Israel's home games was fear of terrorism, which could be understandable. However, no other nation under terrorist threat or subject to terrorism (like Madrid, London or Istanbul) had their games moved. Also, in basketball, Israel continued hosting clubs and fans from all over Europe during the worst times of the Intifada. The situation in football was partially rectified with Israel allowed to host home games, but only in the Tel Aviv area.
A worse matter was with the refusal by Iran’s world judo champion to compete against Israelis in Athens is part of the Jewish State’s long tangle with political hostility on the playing field.
The first time Israel was involved in a political boycott was in 1956. Several countries, including Syria, Lebanon and Egypt, boycotted the Olympic Games in Melbourne that year after Israel invaded Sinai.
After decades of being regionally homeless on the sports field because Asian and Middle Eastern regional sports bodies refused to include Israel, the Jewish State was accepted in European soccer and basketball leagues — as well as other sports like track and field — in the early 1990s, Galily said.Indonesia was banned from playing at the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo for not inviting Israel to the Asia Games the year before. The last time Israel was invited to the Asia Games, held every four years, was in 1976 when the event was hosted in Teheran — before the Islamic revolution.Israel already had been kicked out of other Asian sports federations by 1973, following the Yom Kippur War.In the years following, Israel had to travel all the way to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji to find willing competitors.The reason there are not more flaps between Israeli athletes and their counterparts from Arab or Muslim countries is that they so rarely compete in the same arenas. It’s only in world gatherings like the Olympics or world championships that their paths cross.“It’s a matter of luck, coincidence, and the fact that there are not a lot of competitions where Arabs and Israelis meet,” said Haggai Harif, who teaches a popular course on sports and politics at Bar Ilan University.
So I hope in this instance Israel stands its ground and demands the Indonesians come to Israel for the Federation Cup. To give in to demands that the match be played at a neutral venue does nothing for Israel's self-respect and increases the chances of many nations following suit in the future.
Another disgusting example of Israeli sportsmen becoming isolated is when both West Ham United and Bolton Wanderers (English Premiership football teams) enjoyed breaks by accepting invitations for a few days R&R in sunny Dubai. All the players and management that is with the exception of the Israeli players, Yosi Benayoun, Yaniv Katan, and Tal Ben Haim. Dubai instructed the English clubs that the Jewish players would not be allowed entry into the Arab sheikhdom. So, the clubs complied with this discrimination and left their Israeli players behind. In a lame excuse, the press office of West Ham said that they had provided their Israeli players with a break in Spain. They might as well have sent them to Coventry
What happens on the field of sport has a massive bearing on how Israel relates to itself, especially as Israel is a very sporting society.

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