Just three days into the Olympics, and already the “apolitical” games have hit a snag. Iranian Judoka, Arash Miresmaeili, refused to play his Israeli opponent, Ehud Vaks, “to sympathize with the oppressed Palestinian people.”
“This was not the way I wanted to win,” said Vaks, a 25-year-old English student who lives in a Tel Aviv suburb. “Sport is more than two people fighting judo. I felt horrible for him. It’s hard enough imagining the feeling when you lose. This is worse. Not even to let you fight? It’s a small world in judo. I admire (Miresmaeili). If he had a choice, he would have fought.”[…] Miresmaeili likely would have knocked the tar out of his Israeli opponent, seemingly a great public and moral triumph for Iran. But that was not what his federation wanted, because his participation would imply the recognition of Israel.
“I don’t think they have a right not to recognize us,” Vaks said. “Israel is a democracy. Iran is not. They tell me not to talk about politics, but sports is always linked to politics.”
He’s right about that last part. Over the years, the International Olympic Committee banished South Africa, and then Yugoslavia, and Turkish Cyprus. The list goes on. Some of these penalties are effective in spurring social change. Politics is the elephant in the room every time the IOC convenes.
I’ll mention one of these “elephants in the room.” How about the fact that the Olympics are being held in China, 2008? Or that Bob Costas, upon seeing the outpour of respect the US teams received in the opening ceremonies, remarked that Greece has always been very forgiving and discerning between the “politics” of America, and the “people” of America, implying some pretty heavy underlying feelings?
That being stated, there is something to be said about the Olympic ideal of bringing “people together in peace to respect universal moral principles.”
And does anyone else wish curling was both a summer and winter sport?