Sport overcomes world's political barriers

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful if sport was left to sportsmen and politics to politicians? Two recent incidents proved that if politics was left out of sports, the world would be a much better place. Alas, this would be an ideal world...
by JACK MILNER | Aug 05, 2015

The first took place at the Special Olympics World Games recently staged in Los Angeles. The event hosted some 6 500 athletes with special needs from 165 nations from around the world, including those who politically did not see eye to eye.

Right now the relations between Israel and Iran are at the lowest possible level, highlighted by Israel’s fervent opposition to the current nuclear deal brokered by US President Barack Obama and his European colleagues.

However, in a show of mutual sportsmanship, the delegations from the two nations found common ground and bonded, even breaking diplomatic protocol and posting pictures of Israeli athletes alongside Iranian ones.

On their Facebook page the Israeli team wrote alongside a picture of cyclist Alon Dolev and an Iranian rider identified as Yaser Tahmasbi: "At the Special Olympics there is peace.

During the different competitions at this year's world games, exciting and emotional encounters with athletes from countries that do not have diplomatic ties with Israel are taking place. Such encounters do no happen every day."

There is also a photograph of Reuven Astrachan, head of the Israeli delegation, hugging his Iranian counterpart, Asghar Dadkhah, along with other photos posted with the words: "Make sport not war."

The interaction between the two delegations apparently began when they found themselves together on a cross-Atlantic flight from France to Los Angeles. It’s a 12-hour flight and the two teams ended up sitting next to one another. They started to talk about the subject common to both teams - sport.

The connection seemed to have caught the attention of the Games' organisers, who decided to orchestrate the official torch-passing ceremony so that the Iranian representative would pass the torch on to an Israeli. That is exactly what happened. 

Iran has been one of the most vocal Muslim nations to have boycotted sporting events involving Israel. In 2011, the Iranian National Olympic Committee reportedly issued a statement saying it was "a general policy of our country, to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime".

The most recent such incident was a volleyball match scheduled for July 21 in Japan and promptly forfeited by the Iranian team, citing alleged injuries by their athletes. National teams and athletes competing in Olympic events can face sanctions for boycotting meetings for political reasons. “Injuries” are therefore often cited.

The other incident concerns Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Jackie Gosh, who is a Sunni Muslim. Gosh, a 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim fighter from Abu Ghosh, says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag.

He became observant about eight years ago and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.

Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality and sees no contradiction between his Islamic faith and his patriotism, or even participating in certain Jewish religious ceremonies. A video on Gosh shows him receiving the traditional Jewish blessing before entering a fight.

When he fights - mostly in Eastern Europe - he always carries an Israeli flag with him.

In fact, for Gosh, winning his fights is very much a matter of Israeli pride.

“I love to go around the world and win in these fights so I can put the flag in their face,” he says.

Israel’s Circassians originated in the northern Caucasus and they arrived in pre-state Israel towards the end of the 19th century. Today, the Israeli Circassian community numbers approximately 4 000, mainly residing in the villages of Kfar Kama and Rehaniya.

The Circassians are among only three minority groups in Israel who, like the country’s Jewish citizens, are obligated to serve in the Israel Defence Forces, the other two being the Druze and the Bedouins.




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