Malaysia has been stripped of the right to host a major international swimming competition after refusing to allow Israeli athletes to compete.
Athletes from around the globe had joined politicians including Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson in expressing concern over the prospect of the World Para Swimming Championships going ahead in Kuching this summer without guarantees that Israelis would be treated equally.
But following a meeting in London today, the governing board of the International Paralympic Committee decided to remove the event from Malaysia, saying guarantees had not been offered by the country’s home ministry over visas or the use of anthems and flags. Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “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. The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion. Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries.
“In September 2017 when the IPC signed the contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (NPC Malaysia) to host the World Para Swimming Championships, we had assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured. Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas. Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”
Chelsey Gotell, Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, said: “The IPC Athletes’ Council has received a great deal of correspondence from athletes around the world on this situation. We have discussed all potential outcomes and engaged with the World Para Swimming Athlete Advisory Group to gather their feedback on the situation to ensure the athlete voice was well reflected in the IPC Governing Board discussion and decision.
Not only does this decision stress the importance of keeping sport and politics separate, but it also reinforces the IPC’s commitment to our fundamental moral and ethical principles that encompass inclusivity of all eligible Para athletes and nations to compete at IPC sanctioned events.”
Speaking at the Oxford Union a week ago, prime minister Dr Mahatir Mohamed confirmed that the visa-denial was punitive but restated his country’s right to bar visitors from countries whose policies he disagreed with, adding that if the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) wanted to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the tournament, “they can do so”. He has also previously described Jews as “hook-nosed” and suggested four million, rather than six million Jews, were killed in the Shoah.
Board of Deputies President Marie van der Zyl said: “We commend the IPC for this important and principled decision. Malaysia’s Prime Minister continues to heap shame upon his office for his overtly racist comments against Jews.
“It is a pity for ordinary Malaysians that their Prime Minister’s bigotry has deprived them of the opportunities Championships present.
“We hope that, wherever their new home, the Championships will be a tremendous, inclusive and sporting success.”
Jewish Leadership Council chief executive Simon Johnson said his organisation applauded the “firm and decisive action taken by the IPC”.
Noting that “discrimination in sport has not place”, Johnson expressed the hope that “other sports governing bodies will follow” the IPC’s lead.
— Jewish Leadership Council (@JLC_uk) January 27, 2019
The Zionist Federation also thanked the IPC for “making the right decision and standing against discrimination, antisemitism and hatred”.
The UK foreign office told Jewish News last week the proposed ban on Israelis was “fundamentally wrong” after Watson said a new host must be found if Malaysia persists.
We Believe in Israel has now thanked supporters who had signed a petition to the IPC.
Joan Ryan MP, Labour Friends of Israel chair, said: “I strongly welcome the IPC’s decision to strip Malaysia of the right to host the World Para Swimming Championships. In a defeat for antisemites, they have made clear that singling out the world’s only Jewish state will not be tolerated. Malaysia should not be allowed to host international events, sporting or otherwise, until it reverses its policy of discriminating against Israelis.”