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Israel Prevents Palestinian Athlete Attending Special Olympics - Arabs Boycott Israeli team

Carl O'Brien
The Irish Times
23 June 2003

Politics reared its head in the Special Olympics for the first time yesterday when athletes from Saudi Arabia and Algeria refused to play Israel in football and table-tennis competitions.

Saudi Arabia's five-a-side team was due to compete against Israel in Belfield, but refused to do so in protest over the country's treatment of the Palestinians.

The Saudi team was apparently disqualified, according to the Israelis, after refusing to take part despite repeated requests.

An Algerian table-tennis player also refused to play against an Israeli.

The Special Olympics organising committee was last night unable to confirm details of the controversy.

However, Mr Boaz Rodkin, the charge d'affaires in the Israeli embassy, said he was "saddened".

"It's against the whole spirit of the Games," he said.

Since the foundation of the Games in 1968, the organisers have always sought to keep politics and nationalism out of the competition.

Unlike the Olympic Games, the Special Olympics do not include national flags or anthems.

Mr Adi Yeger of the Israeli team's 15-strong delegation said the team was not political and had played Arab countries such as Egypt as recently as the weekend.

"The Israeli team has no political bias," he said.

It was confirmed yesterday that a 21-year-old Down's syndrome athlete from Palestine, who was unable to cross the Israeli-controlled border, will not be attending the Games.

Mr Lyad Abuelkheir, who was due to compete in the handball competition, was not allowed to cross the border between Gaza and Egypt despite holding an Irish visa.

The chairman of the host town committee in Kinsale, Co Cork, expressed frustration at the actions of the Israeli authorities.


Palestine trek worthwhile

Melanie Finn
Team Handball
Irish News
26 June 2003

IT'S rare for an Olympic team to have their entire squad playing in just one sport, but for Palestine, who endured an arduous trip to get here, they are happy just to be competing.

Playing yesterday in Team Handball against Mauritania, the Palestinian coach Marouf Shatara said their amazing time in Ireland had made the difficult trek out of the country all worthwhile although he laughingly admitted handball wasn't a popular sport in Palestine.

"The organisers told us they wanted a handball team! We only met a short while before as a team because of movement restrictions in Palestine."

He was overwhelmed by their host town Kinsale's support and was delighted to see a convoy of their new Cork friends had travelled up to cheer them on.

Although they still haven't won any matches, playing against Egypt was a highlight for Marouf as the teams hugged each other at the finish, which he believes "is really what it's all about".

The entire team completed a lap of honour after their game yesterday and received a standing ovation from the cheering crowds.

Also playing yesterday was Iceland and Algeria, who had a legion of fans to cheer them on, including restaurant owner Lamara Hebib.

Living in Ireland since 1978, he still hasn't forgotten his roots as danced around in his Algerian flag, shouting supportively for his side. He said it was his first visit to the game and he was hoping for an Algerian victory to see them through to the semi-finals.

His friend Djamal Bey, who was his neighbour in Algeria, said the atmosphere was brilliant. When asked where his flag was, he replied confidently: "One flag is all we need."

Also at the National Show Centre in Santry yesterday, Chairman of the Special Olympics Denis O'Brien popped in to sample the atmosphere of Team Handball.

Looking fit and relaxed in a charcoal-grey suit, the entrepreneur took time off from his schedule to tour around some of the city's venues and congratulate the hard-working volunteers. He said it was clear everyone was having a great time.

"What really strikes me is all the hard work and professionalism of the volunteers. All the venues are working like clockwork and I wanted to personally congratulate everyone for that," he said.



Arabs boycott Israel at Special Olympics

By Sharon Sadeh
24 June 2003

The Israeli delegation to the Special Olympics has lodged an official protest with the organizers in Ireland after Arab teams boycotted competitions in which Israel was taking part. The Saudi indoor soccer team did not show up for a match against the Israelis, nor did an Algerian table tennis player for his game against an Israeli.

The Arab boycott of the Israeli teams made the front pages of the Irish press.

There are 150 countries represented at the games, with Israel's team consisting of 29 participants.