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#BanIsrael: Campaign to ban Israel from intl. sports competitions gets impetus

By Ivan Kesic

In December last year, a report said at least 88 Palestinian athletes have been killed in Israeli bombings in Gaza since October 7, pointing to the impact of the war on the war-torn territory’s sports fraternity.

The report by the Palestinian Football Association revealed that the casualties included 55 football players and 30 athletes from other disciplines. The number has surpassed 100 since then.

The ongoing genocide in the Gaza Strip, which has already claimed the lives of at least 29,000 Palestinians, including 12,000 children, has given rise to calls for a complete boycott of the regime.

This boycott campaign extends to the sports arena as well, with calls growing louder for a ban on the participation of Israeli regime-affiliated teams in international sports competitions.

BDS Movement, in a post on its website, wrote that Palestinian players are “routinely attacked, imprisoned and killed” as well as “denied freedom of movement to attend their own matches.”

“During Israel’s genocidal attacks on Gaza, the Israeli military occupied Al Yarmouk stadium, transforming it into a detention, torture and interrogation center, before completely destroying it,” wrote the organization that campaigns for the boycott of the Israeli regime.

“Despite all this, Western-dominated sports bodies have looked the other way, refusing to take action. More than 300 Palestinian sports clubs and dozens of civil society organizations are calling to #BanIsrael from the Olympics.”

The calls for the boycott of Israeli sports intensified after Palestinian football star Hani Al-Masri, who also served as an Olympic coach, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza.

European calls for boycott

On Friday, the British Green Party in a post on the social media platform X, formerly Twitter, joined international calls for a sports and other boycott of the Israeli regime.

In a post, the party listed its demands such as: "stop arming Israel, prosecute war criminals, sanction Israel's political leaders, and bar Israel from sporting and music events."

The party's spokesperson explained that the call for a sports boycott is part of a broader strategy that includes an end to arms sales and an immediate ceasefire, in order to create the space for a political dialogue that must come to bring lasting peace and security to everyone in the region.

He said sports and other boycotts proved effective in overthrowing apartheid in South Africa, and that the British government participated in earlier calls to boycott the World Cups and the Olympic Games.

Two days earlier, Clare Daly, an Irish politician and member of the EU Parliament, also called for a sports boycott of Israel, urging the Olympic, football and basketball federations worldwide to suspend the apartheid Zionist regime.

Daly signed a petition calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA), the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), and the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to "suspend Israel from international competitions until it complies with international law.”

She also shared a link to a petition that calls for the expulsion of Israel from the biggest international competitions and invited her followers to take part in that campaign through signatures.

It came a few weeks after a call for the suspension of Israel was made by Gary Lineker, a former professional footballer and BBC presenter, but he was forced to delete the tweet under pressure from the British government's official broadcaster.

In January,  a campaign called DiEM25 launched a global signature campaign to call on the FIFA, FIBA and the International Olympic Committee to sanction the Israeli regime.

“With a few notable exceptions, our governments and elected representatives continue to toe the official line of Israel – even increasing diplomatic, financial and military support to it despite countless violations of international laws, international humanitarian laws, and UN resolutions,” read the petition.

“The International Olympic Committee, FIFA, UEFA, FIBA, and other sports organizations are complicit as they allow continuous participation of the occupying apartheid regime in their events. Following a swift response and an instant suspension of Russia, it is now difficult for them to justify turning a blind eye to the Israeli government’s actions.”

Asian calls for boycott

A movement calling for the sports boycott of the Israeli regime over the genocidal aggression against Palestinians in Gaza has also echoed in the West Asian region.

On February 10, the Iranian football federation called on world football's governing body (FIFA) to "completely suspend" Israel from football-related activities in a bid to "prevent the continuation of the Israeli war on Gaza" and "to provide food, drinking water, and medical supplies to civilians."

In an announcement on it official website, the federation said the suspension was recommended in response to the "inhumane actions carried out by the Zionist regime in Palestine and the commission of war crimes in Gaza, and the massacre that took place against innocent civilians, especially women and children."

"Beyond a shadow of a doubt, an immediate action by FIFA, football associations and member unions will be a symbol of philanthropy and the implementation of the charter of the world football community in the field of social and human responsibilities, and will be a brilliant and lasting move in the history of football," the stated noted.

Around the same time, a group of twelve West Asian football associations, led by Jordan’s Football Association (JFA), sent a letter to FIFA to sanction Israel, urging it to take a "decisive stand" and exclude the regime from the global federation until it stops the aggression.

"We, the West Asian Football Federations, encompassing all its members, call upon FIFA, the Football Confederations, and Member Associations to join us in taking a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza," their statement said.

The group further condemned Israel's killing of civilians, including players, coaches, referees and officials, as well as their destruction of football infrastructure in Gaza.

The signatories include the Palestine Football Association (PFA), and the letter was sent to the addresses of all 211 national football associations and six regional confederations.

The Palestinian and Jordanian football federations sent individual objections back in late December, when disturbing footage from the destroyed Yarmouk Stadium, one of the oldest Palestinian sports facilities, spread around the world.

There, the Israeli regime established an internment camp for Palestinian prisoners and tied up dozens of civilians, women and children, stripped them half-naked and lined them up with their eyes blindfolded, surrounding them with soldiers and tanks.

The PFA announced that it had sent letters to the IOC and FIFA, demanding an "urgent international probe into occupation crimes against sports and athletes in Palestine."

"In the latest example of Israeli fascism, the occupation showed us horrific images during its invasion of the Yarmouk Stadium in the Gaza Strip, and turned it into a detention center where it abused and interrogated our people," the PFA said.

"This blatant and scandalous violation of all covenants is added to a long series of violations against Palestinian sports, including the killing and arrest of players. This is a crime that the international sports institutions cannot tolerate, silence and ignore.”

The same gruesome scenes were condemned by the JFA: "The blatant disregard for moral and humanitarian laws has transfigured football facilities in Gaza into sites of harm, humiliation, and abuse for innocent civilians and children deviating from their intended purpose as spaces of joy and hope."

"Silence in their critical circumstances may be perceived as an implicit endorsement of the occupation’s unlawful practices, potentially implicating parties in these grievous atrocities," the Jordanian association added.

Deafening silence

The crimes of the Israeli regime go far beyond the mere destruction of sports infrastructure.

The killings and destruction, along with the blatant restrictions, are a clear violation of the Olympic Charter, adopted at the 141st IOC Session a few days after the launch of the genocidal campaign, which states that "the practice of sport is a human right."

The same chapter adds that "every individual must have access to the practice of sport, without discrimination of any kind in respect of internationally recognized human rights within the remit of the Olympic Movement."

Judging by the moves of the IOC in recent months, it is evident that the guidelines of the charter and the Olympic spirit of togetherness are valid only selectively, according to experts.

The IOC has so far refused to unequivocally condemn the Israeli aggression against Gaza and the resulting humanitarian crisis, and the leaders of FIFA and UEFA also avoid condemning it.

This is in stark contrast to their reactions to the Russian military operation in Ukraine, which resulted in the exclusion of Russian national teams and athletes from all major international competitions.

Just two days before Israel launched its war on Gaza, the IOC additionally sanctioned Russia on the pretext that its actions "violate the Olympic charter."

To official criticism of bias and double standards by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and others, the IOC gave the lukewarm excuse that "the two conflicts are not comparable."

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