A Dutch soccer team is facing criticism for playing in Abu Dhabi despite the emirate’s refusal to let in the team’s Israeli defender.
Two Dutch politicians and several media criticized the team, Vitesse of Arnhem, over the weekend for agreeing to play in Abu Dhabi despite the refusal Saturday to let Dan Mori into the country for matches against two German teams.
Geert Wilders, leader of the rightist, pro-Israel Party for Freedom, on Sunday called the team cowardly on his Twitter account. “Vitesse shouldn’t have gone to the United Arab Emirates to protest the refusal to let Mori in. They are now accepting the emirates’ Jew-hate. Cowardly.”
Pieter Omtzigt, a lawmaker for the CDA party, told Dutch media on Monday that Vitesse should behave like Dutch lawmakers, who refuse to visit places which try to dictate the make-up of parliamentary delegations. In a blitz of criticism on his Twitter account Omtzigt called Vitesse “spineless” for playing along with the Abu Dhabi ban.
Ester Bal, communications director for Vitesse, said the team “stays away from politics and religion. We have always done this. We are a soccer club.”
Management said in a statement that the decision to go to Abu Dhabi was made because “the team had obligations and wanted to prepare to the best of our abilities for future matches.”
“Such discrimination in sports is regrettable when sports should be beyond politics, especially considering this ‘benching’ of one of the team’s players,” the Israeli embassy in the Hague said in a statement. “The club has chosen to exclude a player because of his nationality. It is truly regrettable that the soccer club from Arnhem pursued actions that fly in the face of the basic principles of international sports such as non-discrimination, moral conduct and sportsmanship.”
Esther Voet, director of the Hague-based Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, was quoted on Monday by the RTL news broadcaster as saying that Abu Dhabi “walked all over Vitesse, which should have had the team spirit not to go without Mori.”
The UAE has come under pressure for banning Israeli athletes in the past. In 2009, Shahar Peer was temporarily kept from competing in a tennis tournament in Dubai, another of the emirates, leading defending champion Andy Roddick to pull out of the event.
In December, a group of Israeli teens attended the World Youth Chess Championships in Dubai but competed without its national identity on display.
Though Israeli media reported that the organizers forced the Israeli team to forgo flags and colors, a statement issued by the Israel Chess Federation and published on the Word Chess Federation website explained that the arrangement was made at the request of the Israelis themselves.
“We would like to state very clearly that this move was done as a result of our security people’s request and with full cooperation with the local organizers,” the ICF said. “While we believe that participation of Israeli players in events held in Arabic countries, and vice versa of course, with Israeli flags is very positive and contributes to a good atmosphere, we all realize that such events need security solutions and strict cooperation.”