By Ben Cooper
A Tunisian court ruled that four Israeli taekwondo athletes would be barred from participating in the World Takwondo Junior Championships in the days before it took place from April 6-13.
Ahmed Gaaloul, the president of the Tunisian taekwondo federation, was sued by a Tunisian anti-Zionist organization that claimed that the Tunisian government has previously committed to “denouncing and refusing Zionist occupation and colonization, as well as boycotting and not dealing with the Zionist entity (…) in any way,” according to an Associated Press story.
The court made its decision and sided with the organization, known as the National Commission for Supporting Arab Resistance and Opposing Normalization and Zionism.
Gaaloul told The Associated Press that he believed the anti-Zionist organization misled the judges.
Rohan Sivam, the president of UMD’s Black Belt Club, said he’s been doing taekwondo for over 16 years and that he doesn’t think politics has much of a place in sports.
“From a moral perspective, I believe sports and arts should be kept separate from politics,” he said. “[The decision] reinforces the idea that politics covers all aspects of life.”
However, Sivam, a senior bioengineering and chemistry major, said there are exceptions, such as when athletes break rules within their sport.
“For example, the Russian doping scandal at the last Olympics — it was an infraction on the sport itself,” said Sivam. “In [the Israel] case, I don’t think the athletes should have been banned.”
Rabbi Eli Backman said this incident would not have been an issue if it had been in a different country.
“There have been times where governments have boycotted to forbid other governments from joining the Olympics, but that’s generally an accepted cause across the board,” said Backman, a rabbi at UMD Chabad. “If you have the same competition in a place like England, wherever, there would not have been an issue here.”
However, Backman said the ban didn’t surprise him.
“Am I shocked to hear that their court upheld those bylaws? No. Is it a kind of sad state of what goes on in the world? Yeah.”
This is one of a string of incidents in which politics have caused tension between Israeli athletes and their competitors. At the 2016 Rio Olympics, the Lebanese Olympic team refused to ride with the Israeli team on a bus to the opening ceremony.
In 2017, an Israeli judoka won a gold medal at a judo competition in the United Arab Emirates. During the award ceremony, event organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem because of Abu Dhabi’s ban against displaying Israeli symbols.