Monday, August 15, 2016

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walked onto a podium

Like so many others, I harbor a not-so-secret love/hate relationship with the Olympics. I love the idea of the Olympics, the pageantry of the march of the athletes, most of the sports, and hearing all sorts of anthems at medal ceremonies. There are moments of sheer transcendence, like when gymnasts of both Koreas, heads together, took a selfie. I was ferklempt. That was an incredible moment and judging by subsequent photos, they seem to have taken a step toward friendship in spite of Kim Jung-un.

There's the Olympic Refugee Team, athletes who no longer have homes, and whose cause was initially and successfully championed by marathon runner Tegla Larpoupe. Ten athletes who would never have been able to compete at any level made it to the games because someone cared enough to make sure victims of war were not forgotten. What a powerful statement. At this writing, none of them have taken a medal, but how much does that matter? Maybe next time there will be more time to train and more facilities open to athletes without countries. 

Many athletes arrive at an Olympic village with the knowledge that they are the best of the best in their countries. With duffles stuffed with dreams and hope, these competitors know they will challenge themselves, challenge each other, and meet others like themselves, sharing what it means to be just that good. 

And then there's the part about the Olympics that I hate: the refusal of the IOC to actually recognize there are deep-seeded issues that must be firmly and permanently addressed. Instant media means those issues can no longer be glossed over or hidden in a backroom. There are very big giant cats and they are jumping out of very small bags...right into the net of the electronic press.

Some athletes will come with syringes, pills, and hidden agendas. Doping remains rampant. Once upon a time, there were serious questions about steroids and gender. As recently as right now, it turns out the Russian Olympic team was involved with not just systematic doping, but a committee dedicated to masking that doping. And despite all evidence supporting a national program of doping, some Russian athletes are competing in these games...and not without boos and backlash.

Others come to intentionally spit on the spirit of the Olympics. Who is responsible when one team refuses to permit another team to board a bus to the opening ceremonies? Who is shamed in the moment a proffered hand is refused..the one who offers a hand in the spirit of the moment, or the one who turns his back? And who is shamed when a lie is exposed...the liar or the target of the lie?

The Lebanese team blocked the Israeli team from boarding a bus to the opening ceremonies on August 5th. 
A source from the Lebanese Olympic committee told Lebanese television station Al Mayadeen on Saturday that the refusal to allow the Israeli delegation to ascend the bus on Friday was a group decision of the Lebanese Olympic delegation.

A separate source also said that Lebanese athletes are "committed to the national position in refusing to be in the same place as the Israelis." He added that Lebanon will remain part of the resistance against Israel.                                                                                                       Jerusalem Post 08/07/2016 
The IOC, when alerted to what was happening, immediately arranged for a second bus for the Israeli team. And they ultimately scolded the head of the Lebanese team after a hearing on Sunday. 

Scolded. Really? "Now, now, kiddies; play nice."

At least when the Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with his Israeli competitor, they sent that guy home. I guess it was easier to send one guy than a whole team.

This is not news, folks. This is really old, old stuff. 

Arab athletes are exhorted to refuse to participate in Olympics lest they face an Israeli opponent. They are instructed to refuse any and all contact with Israeli athletes. Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby was hounded in the Egyptian media not to go. They are advised to block and prevent wherever possible. Athletes are encouraged to lie about their training situations to make Israel appear to be preventing them from competing at all. Mary Al-Atrash lied to global media about access to "olympic-size" pools; the IOC said nothing. 

Yet, the IOC does little. And in doing little, they are in violation of their own mission statement, specifically the following item:

1.    to encourage and support the promotion of ethics and good governance in sport as well as education of youth through sport and to dedicate its efforts to ensuring that, in sport, the spirit of fair play prevails and violence is banned;

2. to encourage and support the organisation, development and coordination of sport and sports competitions;

6.   to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic                        Movement

I guess discrimination against Israelis and Jews does not really affect the Olympic Movement. 

No other nation had its athletes slaughtered in a terrorist attack. Munich remains a ghostly specter over the games, a shadow that never really dissipates. Israeli athletes are acutely aware that they are never really safe. No other nation is continually subjected to the snubs, the slights, and the unsportsmanlike behavior of other athletes like the Israelis. No other nation is expected to just stand there and stoically take it. Israel, in this one area, takes the high road. They continue to compete, they continue to act with honor, and they continue to exhibit the best of good sportsmanship. 

Of course, this is nothing more than a symptom of a much larger illness. In the greater scheme of life in the universe, the Olympics, however amusing, are narishkeit, nothing of import. The Olympic process is flawed from beginning to end; the system has long ago abandoned what little ethical and moral compass it once had for the tarnished gleam of lucre. The IOC has been accused of bribery, favoritism, nepotism, and a whole host of other isms too numerous to mention. Host cities spend billions they don't have on Disney-esque villages where, at least in the case of Rio, slums are displaced and the toilets still don't work. Long ago, they should've built a permanent home in Greece and Switzerland and end this charade of musical venues. 

But where does that leave the Israelis? I think Brurya Bigman, the Israeli team's press attache, referring to Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby's refusal to shake Or Sasson's hand: 
This is his problem. It's not our problem.

In truth, it's the IOC's problem and by extension kol yisrael...all of Israel. Are we not taught: 
כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה
All Israel is responsible one for another. 
 We are. We are responsible to standing up to antisemitism whether it masks itself as anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, or anti-Jewish. It's all the same. The Israelis will continue to take the high road in this milieu. It's the right, the righteous, and the ethical thing to do. 

One day, Arab competitors will shake hands with their Israeli counterparts. One day Palestinian swimmers will train with other athletes of the region in whatever pool is handy. One day, Arab and Israeli teams will share more than a bus, they will share a venue, a locker room, and even a village. And just like in the photo below, the moment will be about athletic competition instead of politics, and all the nations of the world will get to play against the best. 

A Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew walked onto a podium.........
Bronze mendalist Aliya Mustafina of Russia, gold medalist Simone Biles and 
silver medalist Aly Reisman of the United States 
It can be done, people. 

The Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
Every time there's an Olympiad, I hope for the best.
Giving in to cynicism is not useful here.


  1. A wise man was once insulted by a skeptic. The wise man responded by asking to whom a gift belongs that is not accepted. The skeptic answered, "to the giver." The wise man replied, "then your anger stays with you for I do not accept it."

  2. WP.

    In addition to the endless political and doping issues, you missed a golden opportunity to take NBC to task. Not only is their coverage of the Olympics appalling, as usual, one of their senior execs explained that they clogged their broadcasts with personal puff pieces, because women weren’t interested in the sport or the results. WHAT! Talk about sexist and patronizing. Is it too much to ask that we get to watch sport once every four years, other than gymnastics or beach volleyball. Fencing perhaps, or Field Hockey or Rugby or.. anything that might be of interest to anyone, except NBC’s apparent target audience of non-competitive, empty headed females….


    1. Cannot disagree with you, Ed. Had I gone on to write about NBC's ridiculous overage of commercials interspersed with the occasional event, the blog woulda been 10,000 words!


    2. Dear Susan,
      Thank you for an excellent blog. You always, you give me something important to think about. Lorraine

  3. As usual, a fabulous and poignant piece Susan :)