Monday, August 10, 2015

Sports and politics, joined at the hip

Make no mistake – for all the rhetoric about how they should never interfere with one another, sports and politics are inextricably linked. Even former International Olympic Committee president Juan Antonio Samaranch admits as much. Whether for good or ill, there will always be political entities who prioritize promoting their worldview or policies over competition, fair play, and other Corinthian values. People mewling about how sporting events and political protests don't mix clearly have no sense of history, whether out of ignorance or willful blindness.

It should come as little surprise that Israel is often involved when political considerations overtake sporting values. For example, just sticking to the neighborhood, Shahar Peer was denied a visa to enter Dubai and play in a WTA tennis tournament in 2009, and last year an Israeli footballer with Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem was barred from entering when his team arrived for a training camp in the UAE. Now Indonesia is getting in on the act by barring an Israeli badminton player from the world championships in Jakarta.

Fortunately, it appears cooler heads have prevailed – with the aid of outside intervention.
Indonesia granted an Israeli badminton player a visa to enter the country and compete in the world championships in Jakarta after a months-long standoff, Israel's national Olympic committee said Monday.

The Olympic Committee of Israel said Misha Zilberman, 26, had been cleared to enter Indonesia — the world's most populous Muslim country — after being repeatedly denied a visa because he is Israeli.

OCI secretary general Gili Lustig said Zilberman had been waiting in Singapore for two weeks after making an initial visa application six months ago. He said the Badminton World Federation intervened to ensure Zilberman could secure a visa.
Perhaps Indonesian officials were wary of getting on the wrong side of the Badminton World Federation. They've already incurred the wrath of FIFA and been banned from world football until further notice, and it would take a very brave and/or foolish politician to risk crippling the country's second-favorite sport so soon after ruining the first.

Bear all this in mind the next time some blustering politician claims the sports world is somehow hermetically sealed and immune to influences from the outside world. That has never been the case and, so long as humans and political entities exist, never will be.

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