Jordanian triathlon event bars Israelis from competing over alleged security fears

Israel’s deputy foreign minister says formal diplomatic rebuke unnecessary; athletes missed chance for points toward 2024 Olympic Games qualification

Illustrative: Israelis participate in a triathlon in the  Israeli city of Eilat, on December 1, 2017. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis participate in a triathlon in the Israeli city of Eilat, on December 1, 2017. (Anat Hermony/Flash90)

Six Israeli triathletes were banned from competing in an international event in Jordan over the weekend, allegedly due to the need for funding extra security for the team, despite efforts by Israeli officials to see them included.

“We couldn’t compete because we are Israelis,” triathlete Itamar Levanon told the Kan public broadcaster. “I thought we had moved on from past situations, but it seems not.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll told Army Radio on Sunday that the incident did not warrant a formal diplomatic rebuke against Jordan, and that the two countries were working together.

“We approached the ambassador. We will see how we take things from there. We are dealing with the matter,” he said, but stressed there the incident does not mean that Jordan is no longer “a partner” with Israel.

The triathlon was held in the southern resort city of Aqaba and the Israeli athletes were eager to participate as it offered an opportunity to gain points toward qualifying for the 2024 Paris Olympic Games.

Israeli authorities first became aware there was a problem several weeks ago when the athletes were delisted from the event.

Deputy Foreign Minister Idan Roll attends a ceremony at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on December 1, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israel Triathlon Association contacted the foreign and sports ministries, which took up the matter with World Triathlon, the international governing body for the sport, according to Hebrew media reports.

Though told they should continue to prepare for the event, the five men and one woman were finally informed Friday they could not participate.

Levanon nonetheless traveled to Jordan in the hope of being able to arrange entry with race officials, but was still told he could not enter the race.

Levanon told the Ynet website that organizers took him aside and explained there had been much discussion about the matter but he could not compete.

Israeli team coach Ori Zilberman told the outlet that Israeli officials had made a strong effort on behalf of the team, but that it was the Jordanians and the World Triathlon who are to blame.

He said the Israelis were told the Jordanians were not prepared to fund extra security protection for the Israeli team, and that this was why they were excluded.

“The ministries did not like what happened because it is a dangerous precedent — for other sports as well. A country like Jordan that says ‘it is not appropriate for us to have the Israelis,'” Zilberman lamented.

Channel 12 cited a statement by Jordanian officials that organizers had threatened to cancel the entire event if Israelis participated, due to concerns of an attack. The Jordanian officials claimed the Israelis were not banned from participating but rather were asked not to attend.

Other countries that have boycotted Israeli athletes have faced harsh measures from international sporting bodies.

In November 2021, the World Men’s Team Squash Championship in Malaysia was canceled because the country would not let an Israeli team in.

Iran was given a four-year ban from international judo events for refusing to let its athletes face opponents from Israel.

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