The head of the Lebanese delegation to the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro boasted Saturday that he physically blocked the entrance to a bus to prevent Israeli athletes from boarding amid a refusal to travel with them to the opening ceremony of the games on Friday.
Saleem a-Haj Nacoula told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” as they insisted on boarding the same bus when they had their own assigned transportation.
“There were more than 250 buses assigned to transport delegations from the Olympics village to the ceremony. After we boarded bus number 22, for the Lebanese delegation, I was surprised to see the Israeli delegation approaching and trying to get on,” Nacoula said.
“I told the bus driver to close the door but a trainer who was with the Israelis prevented him from doing so. I had to physically stand at the door and block him and the rest of the delegation from boarding, knowing that some were trying to force their way through and were looking for trouble,” he went on.
Nacoula alleged that the Israeli had their own bus to take them. “Why did they want to board a bus with the Lebanese delegation?”
“I stood at the door and told those responsible that we would not let them on the bus with us,” he said.
Members of the Israeli delegation were taken to the opening ceremony on other buses arranged through Olympics organizers.
Back home, Nacoula was praised in the press and on social media as a hero.
The incident was first described on Friday by Udi Gal, the Israeli sailing team trainer, who took to social media to criticize the Lebanese.
“I kept on insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want to board as well they are welcome to leave,” Gal wrote in a Facebook post Friday.
“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance. The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus,” he added.
Gal also criticized Olympic organizers for succumbing to the pressure of the Lebanese.
“How could they let something like this happen, and on the eve of the Olympic games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics are and what they should stand for? I cannot even describe what I’m feeling. I’m upset and shocked from the incident,” he wrote.
On Saturday, Gal wrote another Facebook post saying the Israeli athletes were in Rio “to represent their nation through sports, not politics.”
The incident, he said, as “saddening” as it was, “has only motivated us.”
The head of the Israeli delegation, Gili Lustig, said in response to the incident: “The organizing committee arranged the transportation and decided which buses we would take to the ceremony. The committee saw the awful behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation and arranged for alternative transportation. [His] behavior flies in the face of the spirit of the Olympics.”
There was no official response from the Lebanese delegation. The Olympic organizing committee has not yet offered any statement about the incident either.
For the 2016 Olympic Games, which officially opened on Friday, Israel proudly showed off its largest delegation ever, with 47 athletes competing in 17 categories. Israel’s delegation also includes 34 coaches and about 25 support staff.