In the year of my daughter’s birth, I spent a lot of TV time watching the Los Angeles Summer Olympics. She got to watch, as a one-month-old, between naps and feedings, Nawal El Moutawakel become the first Muslim female Olympic champion, Joan Benoit win the first-ever Olympic women’s marathon and Mary Lou Retton become the first non-Eastern European gymnast to win the all-around gymnastics competition.
A good year for women.
It wasn’t a good a year for “Olympic values” though, because those Games were boycotted by 14 Eastern Bloc countries, including the Soviet Union.
That 1984 boycott was retaliation for the 1980 American-led boycott of the Moscow Games, a boycott inspired by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
So much for “Olympic values.”
I was reminded of those “Olympic values” by news reports from Rio excoriating an Egyptian judoka for not shaking hands with an Israeli athlete against whom he had competed – and lost – that reflected self-righteous privilege with no consideration of any potential risk.
That coverage followed reports that days earlier the Lebanese Olympic team refused to let Israelis share a bus to the opening ceremonies.
Which IOC official believed that two countries without diplomatic relations, who are officially at war with each other, should travel together – especially given that Israel had occupied southern Lebanon for 22 years, had been complicit in the 1982 slaughter of Palestinians at Sabra and Shatila and which had, in 2006, destroyed much of Lebanon’s economic infrastructure in deliberate overreaction to Hizbollah’s kidnapping provocation?
Israel’s neighbors know that in 2014 Israeli soldiers reportedly shot two Palestinian teenagers, Jawhar Nasser Jawhar, and Adam Abdulraouf Halabiya, at an Israeli checkpoint as they returned home from a training session.
According to Palestinian press reports, “Jawhar was shot with 11 bullets, seven in his left foot, three in his right, and one in his left hand. Halabiya was shot once in each foot.”
They’ll never play soccer again.
Share a bus?
Sure, why not.
Those poor Arabs, they just don’t get it, victimizing poor Israelis by denying them photo-ops, refusing to be exploited within some false Western construct of co-existence though “sportsmanship.”
Share a bus. Smile. Share my selfie.
Israelis were “enraged and shocked.” Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev called the Lebanese bus boycott “anti-Semitism” and “the worst kind of racism.”
American Judo coach Jimmy Pedro was also offended, telling the New York Times: “That is extremely rare in judo. It’s especially disrespectful considering it was a clean throw and a fair match. It was completely dishonorable and totally unsportsmanlike on the part of the Egyptian.”
Dishonorable, unsportsmanlike? Really?
Check your privilege, please.
Was it about sportsmanship when the IOC declared South Africa persona non grata in 1970 and banned South Africa from international sport until apartheid ended in the 1990s?
Did “sportsmanship” inspire Israel to prevent the chief of the Palestinian Olympic team from exiting Gaza for Rio or when Palestinians were forced to purchase new sports equipment in Rio because their equipment was confiscated by Israeli customs?
Today, let’s be humble when we in our privilege – safely distant from the conflicts, occupation and oppression that afflict so much of humanity – demand of the oppressed that they take risks in order to make us feel better, that they remain silent, that they genuflect at the altar of privilege and that they conspire with us to be part of a deception that “sportsmanship” trumps dignity and respect.
True poor sportsmanship, to use familiar examples, includes Lance Armstrong and Roger Clemens using PEDs, Hope Solo calling the Swedes a “bunch of cowards,” Tanya Harding putting out a hit on Nancy Kerrigan, Bobby Knight throwing a chair across an Indiana basketball court, Ohio State’s Woody Hayes punching Clemson’s Charlie Bauman – and then getting inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and, recently from Rio, Ryan Lochte lying about being robbed.
In response to charges that Lochte and three companions had lied about being robbed, Mario Andrada, a Rio 2016 spokesman said “Let’s give these kids (Lochte is 32!) a break. Sometimes you take actions that you later regret. They are magnificent athletes . . . Lochte is one of the best swimmers of all time. They had fun. They made a mistake. It’s part of life. Life goes on. Let’s go.”
Perhaps, if Islam El-Shehaby had been privileged, white and a winner, he, too, could’ve had Andrada as personal apologist.
Perhaps, if medalist Gabby Douglas had been privileged and white she, too, would not have been accused of being disrespectful or of “pouting.”
Andrada might even have called 20-year-old Gabby Douglas a “kid.”
Let those who demand that Islam El-Shahaby shake hands with Israeli Or Sasson remember that in 1979, when news leaked out that America’s U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young had shaken hands with Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s U.N. representative, he was forced to resign by President Jimmy Carter.
Remember that Egypt’s Anwar Sadat and Israel’s Yitzhak Rabin – both of whom shook hands with their enemy – were both assassinated because they were trying to pursue peace through diplomacy.
“Shaking the hand of your opponent is not an obligation written in the judo rules. It happens between friends and he’s not my friend,” El-Shehaby was quoted as saying.
“I have no problem with Jewish people or any other religion or different beliefs,” El-Shehaby said. “But for personal reasons, you can’t ask me to shake the hand of anyone from this State, especially in front of the whole world.”
I won’t ask him to take that risk.
I know that many Egyptians, with whom El-Shehaby has to live, are still opposed to peaceful co-existence with Israel, and will probably remain so, until the occupation and oppression of Palestinians by Israel ends.
Such athletes, especially those from regions of conflict, are neither heroes nor villains but vulnerable humans who strive to do their best to excel, contribute to their communities – and survive.
Let’s not presume to know the risks people take to shape a life for themselves, their families and nations – to live in dignity and respect.
Indeed, perhaps some day Israelis and Americans will be as offended by the occupation and oppression of Palestinians as they are today by an athlete’s refusal to shake hands.
On that day perhaps there’ll be a path to peace.
Sportsmanship is honoring all the members of the Refugee Olympic Athletes Team.
Sportsmanship is American Abbey D’Agostino, a Dartmouth grad, and Kiwi Nikki Hamblin, who, after colliding with other runners and falling during the women’s 5,000-meter event, supported each other, through pain and disappointment, to the finish line.
“I went down, and I was like, ‘What’s happening? Why am I on the ground?’ ” Hamblin said. “Then suddenly, there’s this hand on my shoulder (and D’Agostino saying), ‘Get up, get up, we have to finish this.’ And I’m like, ‘Yup, yup, you’re right. This is the Olympic Games. We have to finish this.’ ”
They put it on the line together – that’s sportsmanship.
I remember, back in 1968 when I was working for Sen. Eugene McCarthy, when Olympians Tommie Smith (Gold) and John Carlos (Bronze) raised their fists in salute at the Mexico City Games.
Real sportsmanship is transformative; it reflects dignity and justice, not just winning. I believe that Smith and Carlos, themselves banned by the IOC and sent home, were true sportsmen, willing to put all on the line for victory that can be sustained beyond a “medal” and national anthem moment.
Tommie Smith and John Carlos – and the oppressed whom they saluted –were Mexico City’s MVPs.
They put it all on the line – that’s sportsmanship.