Every four years I surprise myself by how engaged I am with the Summer Olympics. While I don’t plan to sit in front of the TV watching the swimming, volleyball, gymnastics or track and field events, that is exactly where I wind up. Together with my family, I’m passionately cheering on the American Olympic competitors, fascinated by the personal stories of many athletes from all countries, and embracing the principle goal of the Olympic Games ― to bring athletes from around the world together.
The opening ceremonies of the Olympics are a feel good moment for everyone around the globe. The delegations proudly march into the stadium behind their nation’s flag. The flame is displayed and we all understand the symbolism behind the intersecting rings of the Olympic emblem. Yes, we all know there are horrific conflicts in the world, but for these two weeks of Olympic competition we like to think that we can put these disputes behind us and enthusiastically embrace the core mission of the Olympics.
Unfortunately, a handful of athletes are tarnishing the goals of the Olympics with the dishonorable and reprehensible way they are treating members of the Israeli Olympic delegation. The tone was set before the opening ceremonies when Israeli athletes were blocked from boarding a stadium-bound bus packed with the Lebanon team. The Israeli sailing coach who first publicized the incident, posted, “How can it be that something like this occurs on the eve of the Olympic opening ceremony? Does this not directly oppose what the Olympics represent and stand for...I cannot begin to express my feelings, I’m in shock from the incident.” This hostile act by the Lebanese caused their delegation head, Salim al-Haj Nakoula, to be reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee who said they would not accept any further instances like this.
However, further incidents have been occurring often at the Rio Olympics. There has been much animosity toward the Israel competitors and members of their delegation. Today, after losing to Israeli Or Sasson in a judo competition, Islam El Shehaby of Egypt refused the traditional bow to his opponent and then declined a handshake when Sasson extended his hand. Not only was this a significant breach of judo etiquette, it was a disgusting display of a lack of sportsmanship. El Shehaby should be disciplined for this gesture.
At the outset, it was questionable whether El Shehaby would compete in the match against Sasson. Other Olympic athletes from nations at odds with Israel have already refused to compete against Israelis in Rio. One judo athlete even went so far as forfeiting a match because if she won she would advance to face an Israeli.
This is not in the spirit of the Olympic Games. It also isn’t something that any of us want our children to see. Regardless of the political climate in one’s nation or its sentiment toward another nation, these athletes should rise above the negativity and compete in good sportsmanship with each other. The Olympics bring these athletes together to show that no matter how challenging it may be to get along with each other because of political conflict, we have sports in common.
This Saturday night begins the annual fast of Tisha B’Av for the Jewish people. On this day in history, both holy temples in Jerusalem were destroyed by enemies who sought to end Judaism. Jewish lore has it that the temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE as divine punishment for the Jewish people because of the baseless hatred that was taking place. We use this legend to remind us that there are horrible ramifications when people don’t treat each other respectfully. Each human being is created in the divine image of God ― regardless of which flag they wave or on behalf of which nation they compete. Each athlete in the Olympics deserves respect from the other athletes, not baseless hatred or disrespect, which are the antithesis of the Olympic ideal.
At the end of any sports competition, the noble and human act is to shake hands and congratulate each other on a hard fought contest. The Olympic Games are an opportunity to put politics aside in the spirit of international fellowship. To shun this spirit of the games only makes the poor sports and their countries look bad. I’m hopeful these Olympians are better than this and the Games will continue without any further incidents against the Israelis.