Polish swimmer refuses to coach Malaysian team over its Israel athlete ban

‘There is no place for that in sport,’ says Bart Kizierowski; PM justifies his country’s stance, which has led to it being stripped of hosting major event

Bart Kizierowski (Instagram)
Bart Kizierowski (Instagram)

A veteran Polish swimmer has rejected an offer to coach Malaysia’s national swimming team, citing Kuala Lumpur’s recent refusal to grant visas to Israeli athletes, which has caused the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) to strip the country of the right to host a major swimming event.

In a Facebook post, Bart Kizierowski — who represented his country at four Olympics —  explained his decision to turn down the job.

“I was offered a very attractive coaching position from the Malaysian Swimming Federation,” the 41-year-old wrote.

“Among other personal reasons, I declined that function due to recent statements made by Malaysian politicians regarding refusal of visa for athletes that are supposed to compete at the World Championships organized by that country. There is no place for that in sport.”

Poland’s Bartosz Kizierowski races in the men’s 50m Freestyle heat at the World Swimming Championships in Melbourne, Australia, March 30, 2007. (AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye)

The Star newspaper reported that sports officials in Malaysia had already announced his appointment.

The IPC announced over the weekend that Malaysia would no longer be staging the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships as authorities had failed to provide guarantees that Israelis could take part.

The championships, a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, were due to take place in Kuching from July 29 to August 4.

“Politics and sport are never a good mix,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons in a statement after the body’s governing board made the decision in London. “We are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”

Swimmers at the 2018 Israel Paralympic winter swim championships held at the Alyn pool in Haifa (Karen Isaacson, Israel Paralympic Committee Facebook page)

“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination,” said Parsons. “When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host.”

Malaysia earlier this month said no Israeli delegates could enter the country for sporting or other events in solidarity with the Palestinians.

Late Monday, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad hit back at the IPC’s decision, branding Israel a “criminal state.”

Muslim-majority Malaysia has no diplomatic relations with the Jewish state and entry to the country on an Israeli passport is forbidden, but the IPC had received assurances in 2017 that all eligible athletes would be able to participate in the event.

However, the situation changed after a new government headed by 93-year-old Mahathir, long notorious for his tirades against Israel and Jews, came to power in Malaysia last year. He has attracted criticism for his verbal attacks on Jews over the years, including anti-Semitic comments calling them “hook-nosed” and accusing them of controlling the world.

Following the IPC decision, Mahathir struck a defiant note, with a long entry on his blog listing examples of what he claimed was unfair treatment of the Palestinians by Israel.

Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad listens during an interview with The Associated Press in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Monday, August 13, 2018. (Yam G-Jun/AP)

“Israel is a criminal state and deserves to be condemned,” he wrote late Monday. “We maintain we have a right to bar Israelis from our country. When the world condemns us for this, we have a right to say that the world is being hypocritical.”

The IPC is now looking for a new host for the championship, and is seeking to hold it on the same dates as originally scheduled — July 29-August 4 — or as close as possible to those dates so as not to disrupt the athletes’ training schedules. The deadline for expressions of interest is February 11.

Israeli athletes are regularly banned from competing at international sporting events in Arab and 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.

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