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Table Tennis Player Becomes Celebrity After Refusing to Face Israeli

Arab News
by Saleh Fareed
28 June 2003

Getting banned from international table tennis competitions for the rest of the year after refusing to play against an Israeli has made Nabeel Al-Magahwi a sporting hero in Saudi Arabia.

On the second day of the table tennis World Championship in Paris in May, the tournament was marred by the intrusion of an unwanted guest at the Bercy arena when Nabeel Al-Magahwi from Saudi Arabia and Hani Al-Hammadi from Yemen refused to play their scheduled men’s singles qualifiers against Gay Elensky from Israel.

The decision not to face the Israeli player was the best he ever made, Al-Magahwi told Arab News here in Jeddah, and was worth it even though he was banned from the rest of the competition.

“What I did in Paris was the right thing and I feel proud of it,” he said. “It is a natural for an Arab or a Muslim not to want to face an Israeli, because of our protest against the Israeli aggression in Palestane.”

Born in Al-Ahsa, Al-Magahwi moved to Jeddah to play for Al-Ahli club and said he never thought he would have to play against an Israeli.

“According to the rules of the International Table Tennis Federation, all participating teams have to sign a promise that their players will play opponents from any country, but when it came to playing an Israeli, I told the head of our delegation that I wouldn’t do it, and they agreed with me,” Al-Magahwi said.

He added that he made that clear during a press conference in Paris.

“I asked the press and everyone who was following the tournament how I was supposed to face my Palestinian neighbor, whose two brothers and other relatives were killed by the Israelis,” he said.

“During the press conference, they told me that the International Table Tennis Federation had banned me for the rest of the year. And I told them I don’t care even if they ban me for life, so long as I’m doing the right thing,” he added.

While in Paris, Al-Magahwi was described as a hero by Arabs and Muslims from all over the world.

“It was very touching when an old lady from Palestine who lived in Paris for most of her life called me and told me that she and her people feel proud of the stance I took.”

Al-Magahwi has been a national celebrity since returning from Paris.

“In addition to the great support I received from government officials, residents and expatriates, I have received a special certificate from the Palestanian President Yasser Arafat that I’m very proud of,” Al-Magahwi said.

Banned he may have been, but “I feel like a winner after the reaction I received from everybody.”