RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — The International Paralympic Committee said Sunday it was skeptical about Algeria’s claim that its women’s goalball team missed a game against Israel in Rio purely due to travel delays, and hinted that the team could be disqualified from the Games.
The Algerians did not show up for opening matches against the US team on Friday or Israel on Saturday, leading to accusations in the Israeli media of a boycott by the mostly Muslim country.
However, Algeria’s team spokesman reiterated Sunday that there was nothing political about the absence, saying he was “astonished” by the accusation.
“I wonder why the team would boycott the Paralympics tournament that it has prepared so hard for and which the Algerian state has spent so much money on,” spokesman Abdelkader Kelfat told AFP.
Kelfat said the team had now arrived in Rio after a travel snarl-up caused by a missed connection in Rome on September 5.
“This missed plane had a knock-on effect for the rest of the trip,” he said.
But the IPC said it was still waiting for a “sensible explanation” from Algeria and had not yet decided on a course of punitive action.
“In terms of political protests, there are a range of actions we could take,” IPC spokesman Craig Spence said. “It could be a slap on the wrist. It could be as easy at that. It could be that the team is removed from the competition.”
Spence said Algerian officials “claim they suffered multiple delays, cancelled flights and missed connections” attempting to board a flight Sept. 5 from Warsaw, Poland en route to Rio de Janeiro.
Spence said the rest of the Algerian delegation was in Rio. Algerian officials told the IPC that the goalball team would arrive on Sunday.
“Even if you caught a boat from Poland to Brazil, you probably could have got here in time,” Spence said. “So we’re still working with the Algerians as to whether they can give us a sensible explanation.”
Following an incident at the earlier Olympic Games in Rio where Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby broke protocol by refusing to shake hands with Israeli opponent Or Sasson, the explanation was not immediately accepted. Political protests are banned at the Olympics and Paralympics.
Algeria’s Paralympic officials claimed “the team has suffered a series of flights delays and extreme bad luck in attending the Rio 2016 Paralympics,” the International Paralympic Committee said in a statement.
“The IPC will continue to investigate why more than 4,300 other athletes managed to arrive on time for these Games, yet the five players and two coaches that make up the Algerian women’s goalball team have suffered such trouble,” the statement said.
“If we find during the course of the investigation conclusive evidence that this is anything but bad luck with travel, then the IPC may be in a position to take relevant action.”
The US and Israeli teams were automatically awarded three points and 10-0 victories because of the canceled matches.
The Algerian women’s team is next due to play on Monday against Brazil.
In goalball, blind or partially blind players wear eye shades to make conditions equal, then try to score goals with a ball containing bells to help the players orientate themselves.
The Paralympics has already been dogged by one international row — the banning of the entire Russian team after evidence of a state-sponsored doping program.
At the opening ceremony on September 7, a Belarussian official was expelled from the Paralympics after parading with a Russian flag in a show of support.
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