The Algerian women’s goalball team failed to show up for its first match against the US at the Paralympic Games in Rio on Friday, leading to its cancellation and triggering speculation that the absence was due to efforts to avoid a next-round draw against Israel.
The Algerian team had yet to arrive in Brazil, Israel’s Channel 2 television reported Saturday morning. The match against Israel was scheduled for 6:45 p.m. Saturday, Brazilian time.
A spokesperson for the Israeli Paralympic delegation told Channel 2 that there had been no official announcement from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but the head of the Algerian delegation said the country’s goalball team had not yet arrived in Rio “due to technical problems with flights.”
Olympic regulations ban competing teams from missing any specific game, likely leading to the Algerian decision to first skip the game against the US. The Israeli team announced that it would show up as scheduled for the match against Algeria.
The head of the Israeli Paralympic Committee Danny Ben-Abu lamented the introduction of politics into sports.
“From the moment a team enters the stadium with its national flag, it is committed to perform against every country,” he said. “It has no right to decide whom it competes against — this is a sporting principle! It is a great shame that politics has also seeped into the Paralympics.”
This is not the first time that competitors from Muslim nations have boycotted Israel at the Rio Games. Saudi Arabian judoka Joud Fahmy forfeited her first-round match against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius on August 7, in what Hebrew media said was a maneuver to avoid facing Israeli fighter Gili Cohen in the next round.
The Saudi Olympic team tweeted that Fahmy had sustained injuries to her arm and leg during training and was advised by medical staff not to compete, the Hebrew language Ynet news site reported. According to Channel 2, Fahmy was not hurt, but simply dropped out to avoid competing against the Israeli.
On the same day the head of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee was summoned by the Games’ organizers for a dressing down, following a kerfuffle with the Israeli delegation after the two teams were told to share a bus to the opening ceremony the Friday before.
The Lebanese delegation refused to allow the Israeli players to board the bus, leading to a spat that injected politics into the Games’ opening. Eventually, organizers put Israel on a separate bus.
The Lebanese delegation was cautioned not to repeat any such behavior, a warning likely also directed at other teams which do not recognize Israel and chafe at having to share sporting space with the Jewish state.
But that did not stop Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refusing to shake the hand of Israeli rival Or Sasson after their match on August 12. When Sasson extended his hand, Shehaby backed away, shaking his head. The referee called the 34-year-old Egyptian back to the mat and obliged to him to bow; he gave a quick nod and was loudly booed as he exited.
The IOC said Shehaby’s conduct “was contrary to the rules of fair play and against the spirit of friendship embodied in the Olympic values.”
The Egyptian Olympic Committee also “strongly condemned” Shehaby’s actions and “sent him home,” according to the IOC. Sasson went on to win the bronze medal in his class.
Israel’s Paralympic team
In previous years Israel has won a total of 380 Paralympic medals, putting it thirteenth on the list of medal-winning countries.
More than 30 Israeli athletes are competing in the 2016 Paralympics in a range of events including tennis, table tennis, goalball, rowing, sailing and swimming.
The delegation includes several previous medal-winners. Doron Shazari, who competes in shooting events lost a leg while serving in the IDF in 1987. He won silver in the 2012 London Paralympics and silver and bronze medals in the 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 Paralympic Games.
Swimmer Itzhak Mamistvalov was born with cerebral palsy, and uses his right hand only when swimming. In 2004 he won two gold medals and one silver, and set two Paralympic records, and in 2012 he won a bronze medal. Fellow swimmer Inbal Pezaro, who is paralyzed in her lower limbs, won three silver medals in the 2008 Beijing Paralympics.