Paralympic Committee ‘disappointed’ by Malaysia ban on Israeli swimmers

Governing body committed to ‘finding a solution’ after PM says his country will deny visas to Israeli athletes ahead of qualifying event for 2020 games

Israeli Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro (Razi Livnat/Wikipedia)
Israeli Paralympic swimmer Inbal Pezaro (Razi Livnat/Wikipedia)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — The International Paralympic Committee expressed disappointment Saturday after Malaysia said it would not allow Israeli swimmers to attend a competition in the country that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.

Malaysia is one of a number of Muslim-majority countries that has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, with entry to the country on an Israeli passport prohibited.

The city of Kuching in the eastern Sarawak state will host hundreds of swimmers from 70 countries from July 29th to August 4th.

But on Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Kuala Lumpur would deny visas to Israeli para swimmers seeking to attend the meet.

“We maintain our stand on the prohibition. If they do come, it is a violation,” he was quoted as saying by the official Bergama news agency.

“If they [the International Paralympic Committee] want to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the championship, they can do so.”

The IPC said in a statement that it was “disappointed” with Mahathir’s comments, although it would aim to “find a solution” to the issue.

Protesters wave Palestinian flags during a protest outside the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, December 8, 2017. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Many in Malaysia support the Palestinian cause, with thousands taking to the streets to protest in December 2017 when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.

In 1997, the Israeli cricket team was allowed to play in the 22-nation International Cricket Council Trophy tournament in Kuala Lumpur despite violent street protests. It was the first official visit by an Israeli sports delegation to Malaysia.

Israeli athletes are regularly banned from competing at international sporting events in Arab or Muslim countries, or forced to compete without displaying their national symbols. A number of incidents have led to reprimands from international governing bodies and promises to reform.

In 2016, an Egyptian judoka was sent home after refusing to shake hands with his Israeli opponent at the Rio Olympics. The International Olympic Committee said at the time that Islam El Shehaby received a “severe reprimand” for his behavior following his first-round heavyweight bout loss to Or Sasson.

Last year, The International Judo Federation stripped the United Arab Emirates and Tunisia from hosting two international tournaments due to their failure to guarantee equal treatment of Israeli athletes.

Israeli gold-medalist judoka Tal Flicker stands on the podium at the Judo Grand Slam in Abu Dhabi, where the local judo authorities banned the display of all Israeli symbols, on October 26, 2017. (YouTube screen capture)

The decision to suspend the tournaments came after organizers at last year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam refused to acknowledge the nationality of the Israeli athletes — a policy directed only at Israeli participants.

This included a ban on the display of identifying symbols, as well as a refusal to fly the Israeli flag and play the national anthem during ceremonies for Israel’s five medalists.

Weeks later, the UAE acceded to pressure from international sports officials, allowing Israeli athletes to compete under their national flag in October for the first time ever.

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