Tunisia bid for 2022 Youth Olympics frozen over ban on Israeli athletes

Tunisia bid for 2022 Youth Olympics frozen over ban on Israeli athletes

IOC head says political boycotts are against Games’ values, citing case in which four Israelis were blocked from taekwondo championship last month

Children play football in the streets of Ettadhamen city on April 30, 2018, an impoverished area of Greater Tunis.
Children play football in the streets of Ettadhamen city on April 30, 2018, an impoverished area of Greater Tunis. (AFP/ FETHI BELAID)

Tunisia is being blocked from bidding to host the 2022 Youth Olympics because it recently banned Israeli athletes from a competition, the International Olympic Committee said Thursday.

IOC President Thomas Bach said Tunis’s bid would be frozen until Tunisian officials can guarantee government cooperation in allowing all athletes to compete.

“Some governments abuse sport for their political purposes,” Bach said. “This is against the mission of sport and of the Olympic Games, which bring people together and unify people regardless of any political differences. These boycotts are against our essential values. We are here to watch this carefully and to act.”

Bach cited a case last month in which a Tunisian court blocked four Israelis from competing at the taekwondo junior world championships.

German Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere addresses the press on the attacks in Reutlingen and Ansbach in Berlin, on July 25, 2016. (AFP/Tobias Schwarz)

A judicial official said on April 6 that the court rendered its decision after a Tunisian group known as the National Commission for Supporting Arab Resistance and Opposing Normalization and Zionism sued the president of the Tunisian taekwondo federation, Ahmed Gaaloul for allowing the Israelis to take part in the event.

Prosecutor’s spokesman Sofiane Selliti told The Associated Press that the court decision stipulates that Gaaloul can’t invite, or host, the four Israeli athletes — Dana Azran, Nicol Adamskt, Abishag Semberg and Tom Pashcousky — whose names were on the list of contestants.

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.

Israel’s Ori Sasson (white) competes with Egypt’s Islam Elshehaby during their men’s +100kg judo contest match of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 12, 2016. (TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

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.

In 2013, Tunisia’s tennis federation ordered the country’s top player to withdraw from a match against an Israeli opponent at a tournament.

The IOC announcement came as Tunisia’s prime minister opened a conference on dialogue between religions on the island of Djerba during an annual Jewish pilgrimage that is taking place amid high security.

A Tunisian Jewish woman is seen in the Ghriba synagogue in the Tunisian resort island of Djerba on May 1, 2018 on the eve of the annual Jewish pilgrimage to the synagogue.

Prime Minister Youssef Chahed said his North African nation “will remain a land of peace and tolerance,” according to Mosaique radio. He said Tunisians from all religions are “full citizens of this country.”

Soldiers and other security forces were deployed near the 2,500-year-old Ghriba synagogue, which was targeted in a 2002 extremist attack.

The pilgrimage this year gathered about 3,000 pilgrims Wednesday and Thursday, some coming from Israel, France and Italy.

Djerba is home to Tunisia’s main Jewish community.

Last January, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at two synagogues on the island during protests over price hikes. Authorities say the incident wasn’t terror-related.

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