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Israel and Palestine together towards the Olympics!

On 20 January 2011 Israel and the Palestinians formally entered a sporting cooperation towards the London Olympics in 2012 . Photo: Israeli fan during the 2010 Vancourver Winter Games (c) flickr user zemistor and licensed under a Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

24.01.2011

Comment: There are still many who discuss a cultural boycott of Israel because of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians, and especially because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. If sport is perceived as part of the concept of culture - the so-called extended concept of culture - the discussion about a cultural boycott might have a new and important element. 20 January Israel and the Palestinians formally entered a sporting cooperation towards the London Olympics in 2012.

The Idea of Solidarity
In recent years it has been difficult for both Palestinians and Israelis to travel to international sports events. The IOC has strongly disliked this and has tried to mediate in the conflict for a long time. Their reason for this is partly to follow the idea of Olympic solidarity and partly to show the world community that sport can play an important role in peace making.

Hope
As a protest against the blockade of Gaza, the Palestinian Football Association among others last year arranged an alternative football World Cup in Gaza ahead of the World Cup in South Africa to draw focus on the tight situation, but also to demonstrate hope.

This hope has been strengthened with the agreement this week. The agreement between the Israeli Olympic Committee, the Palestinian Olympic Committee and the Palestinian Football Association should make it easier for athletes, coaches and managers to travel to training sessions and competitions, and it will be easier to bring along sporting equipment. Both the national Olympic committees are to cooperate with public authorities to establish optimum conditions for the two nations ahead of the Olympics in London 2012.

Israel and International Sports
The conflicts in the Middle East have dominated the international sports world for many years. In the interwar period, we witnessed a purely Jewish teams dominate European football - Hakoah Vienna. The team was established as a reaction to increased anti-Semitism and because the Jews in Vienna wanted to emphasize Judaism - also in sport.

Syria, Lebanon and Egypt boycotted the Olympics in Melbourne in 1956 in a protest against Israel's invasion of Sinai. Indonesia was denied participation in the Olympics in Tokyo in 1964 because they had invited Israel to participate in the Asian Games the year before. Last time Israel participated in the Asian Games was in Tehran, Iran in 1976 (!).

In 1973 Israel was thrown out of the Asian sports federations as a protest against the Yom Kippur War. In the following years Israel had to compete in the Oceania before they were accepted into the European sports federations.

Israel was not accepted by the UEFA before 1994. It is not difficult to find negative examples of sports in this region. That is why the Olympic agreement sends a positive signal.

The Battle for the Nobel Prize
It is uncertain whether the agreement will focus the discussion on cultural boycott of Israel further. What I am sure of, however, is that this is an event that will count in the competition between IOC President Jacques Rogge and FIFA President Sepp Blatter to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

After Sepp Blatter awarded Qatar the 2022 World Cup, many - oddly enough - launched Sepp Blatter as a Peace Prize candidate. Blatter’s effort will fade substantially should Rogge manage to reconcile Israel and Palestine on the sports ground - and that without help from the Americans. We must hope that the cooperation will at least last until the summer of 2012.


This article first appeared on Andreas Selliaas' blog 'Sportens Uutholdelige Letthet' on 21 January 2011. Follow Andreas' blog (in Norwegian) on sportensuutholdeligeletthet.blogspot.com 

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