The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of its right to host the World Para Swimming Championships 2019 to be held in Sarawak this July after the nation announced its ban of all Israeli athletes for the said event.
“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination,” IPC President Andrew Parson said in a statement after a meeting of the IPC governing board in London.
“When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host,” he said.
With the contract, there were assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event.
According to IPC, “Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas. Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”
Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said on Wednesday that Malaysia’s cabinet decided that Israelis will not be allowed to enter the country for any event.
“Even if we have already committed to hosting an event, they will not be allowed (into the country),” he said in a press conference.
Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s Minister of Youth and Sports, stressed that the country stood by its decision to bar Israeli athletes.
The minister said: “If hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for our Palestinian brothers and sisters who get murdered, maimed and tortured by the Netanyahu regime, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass.”
“Malaysia stands firm with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise,” Syed Saddiq added.
For decades, Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir has been accused of anti-Semitism. Attacking the Jews in an international media interview in October, he described Jews as “hook-nosed” and blamed them for the troubles in the Middle East.
Muslim-majority Malaysia does not have any diplomatic relations with Israel because of a strong pro-Palestine stance, Israelis cannot enter Malaysia and vice versa.
Condemning the ban as “shameful”, Israel strongly viewed this as a decision inspired by Mahathir’s “rabid anti-Semitism”.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon thanked IPC in a Twitter post: “This is a victory of values over hatred and bigotry, a strong statement in favour of freedom and equality. Thank you @Paralympics for your brave decision.”
Malaysia banning Israeli players is not the first time. In 2015, the government did not grant visas to two Israeli windsurfers set to compete on the island of Langkawi.
In 2017, Kuala Lumpur also refused to host a conference for FIFA world football as an Israeli delegation was due to participate.
Scouting for the next host, IPC said all potential replacement hosts were asked to express an interest by Feb 11.
Parsons underscored the purpose of IPC saying, “The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion.”
“Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries,” he added.
IPC Athletes’ Council chair Chelsey Gotell reinforce this statement, saying “not only does this decision stress the importance of keeping sport and politics separate, but it also reinforces the IPC’s commitment to our fundamental moral and ethical principles that encompass inclusivity of all eligible Para athletes and nations to compete at IPC sanctioned events.”
IPC would try to push for the same dates and conditions for the Championships.
The World Para Swimming Championships in July acts as a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Expected to be in Kuching, Sarawak, as supposed to be the host place from July 29 to August 4, are 600 swimmers from 70 countries, including Israel. There will be 160 titles up for grabs.