Swimming SA douses BDS call to boycott Israel contest
Swimming South Africa (SA), the governing body of aquatic sports in South Africa, has ignored the local Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) coalition’s call for it to pull out of the 9th World Junior Swimming Championships, held from 4 to 9 September 2023 in Netanya, Israel.
Instead, a team of South Africa’s best swimmers aged 14-18 competed alongside hundreds of other talented youngsters from a multitude of countries, who convened on the Wingate Institute for the event. South Africa sent about 27 swimmers, three coaches, and a team manager. On social media, many of the swimmers’ families, friends, coaches, swimming clubs, and schools expressed pride and joy at them going to the event in Israel.
On the first day, South African swimmers Tom Truter and Milla Drakopoulos raced to personal best times to advance through to the semi-finals of the 100m breaststroke and 100m backstroke. On the second day, Tai Pearson set a new record in 100m butterfly, while Ricky Lottering won his 200m freestyle heat comfortably with a massive personal best. Many of the South African swimmers had also shone at the recent Commonwealth Youth Games (CYG) in August.
“The South African Zionist Federation [SAZF] celebrates all South African athletes participating in the championship,” says SAZF National Chairperson Rowan Polovin. “The SAZF is delighted that Swimming SA, in line with other South African sports bodies, has refused to be bullied by the antisemitic BDS movement’s desperate and divisive attempt to prevent normalisation between South Africa and the world’s only Jewish state.”
Swimming SA followed in the footsteps of Black Coffee, Orlando Pirates, Chess South Africa, Tennis South Africa, and Miss South Africa, who have taken part in global events in Israel in spite of the bullying, threats, and intimidation tactics of BDS.
“The SAZF wishes to commend the leadership of Swimming SA for standing up to BDS’ deplorable campaign to prevent South African swimmers from competing in an international swimming event simply because it took place in Israel,” says Polovin. “The competition has more than 600 promising young swimmers from more than 100 countries.”
World Aquatics Vice-President Sam Ramsamy is a South African, a former member of the International Olympic Committee, and the honorary president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee. During apartheid, he worked to ensure a sports boycott against the country. However, he too ignored BDS’ call, which included a direct message to him.
The BDS movement also urged the department of sport, arts and culture “to implement policy guidelines on a sports and cultural boycott in line with the call made to us and the rest of the international community by the Palestinian people”.
The championship was held under the auspices of the prestigious World Aquatics organisation, formerly known as the Fédération Internationale de Natation, the sole and exclusive world governing body for all aquatic sports. Since June 2021, under the presidency of Captain Husain Al-Musallam, World Aquatics comprises of 209 national member federations on five continents.
World Aquatics said that The World Aquatics Junior Swimming Championships, or Junior Worlds, have served as a launching pad for some of the best swimmers in the world to get their first taste of international racing.
“This year’s championships had a loaded field of some of the best 18-and-under swimmers in the world,” said the organisers. “For some, this will be their first time racing in an international meet, while for others, this will be what sparks their dreams that they could be on top of the world one day.” By taking part in the championship, South African swimmers didn’t allow BDS to take that possibility away from them.
One of South Africa’s swimmers, Jessica Thompson, twice broke Erin Gallagher’s CYG 50m butterfly record, winning gold on 7 August. The 16-year-old said at the time that her main goal for the year was the Junior Worlds in Israel. “That’s my main gala for the year. This is more a prep event for Israel. Next year, I’m going to try my hardest to qualify for the Paris Olympics. I know that 2028 in Los Angeles is a good opportunity, but next year with the gift of G-d, I’m hoping to be able to get to Paris.”
World Aquatics says its values are “in accordance with the principles of democracy, right to equality, and no discrimination between any race, skin colour, gender, religion, sexual orientation, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or any other reason, neutrality, transparency, accountability, fair play, inclusion, sportsmanship, and clean sport”.
Its vision and mission are “a world united by water, for health, life, and sport, to ensure the ability to participate, compete in, and benefit from aquatic sport”. By ignoring BDS’ call, Swimming SA aligned with that mission.
Says Polovin, “The divisive and hateful BDS movement stirs up unnecessary division in South Africa. Only South Africans can lose from this equation. Israel offers international experiences to bolster the careers of our young athletes, and yet, the hateful BDS movement would prefer to see our sport stars sink rather than swim. The SAZF welcomes the fact that sport and cultural exchange has triumphed over hate, and we will continue to welcome positive engagements between South Africa and Israel.”
Meanwhile, according to media watchdog Honest Reporting, South Africa’s oldest news site, Independent Online (IOL), printed a piece regurgitating many BDS lies which came from the press release calling on Swimming SA to boycott the championship. Honest Reporting has since filed a formal complaint with IOL.