Tennis Player Becomes Celebrity After Refusing to Face Israeli
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 mens
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
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 wouldnt do it, and they agreed with me, Al-Magahwi
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 dont care even if they ban me for life,
so long as Im 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 Im
very proud of, Al-Magahwi said.
Banned he may have been, but I feel like a winner after the
reaction I received from everybody.