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Calls mount for IOC to kick out genocidal Israel from Paris Olympics

By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Palestine Football Association (PFA) earlier this week urged the world football's governing body FIFA to impose a ban on the Israeli football team amid the ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians in Gaza.

In a detailed letter to FIFA, backed by six other member associations, PFA called for a ban on the Israeli football federation and all clubs associated with it, citing "unprecedented violations of human rights and humanitarian law."

"The entire football infrastructure in Gaza has been either destroyed or severely damaged," read the letter. "The loss of innocent lives, including no less than 99 footballers, the destruction of homes... Are clear violations of international law."

According to Palestinian media, citing local sports bodies, more than 160 athletes, including at least 99 footballers from various divisions, have been killed in the Israeli genocidal war that is now in its sixth month, killing nearly 32,000 already.

The indiscriminate war on the besieged territory, including its athletes and the sports infrastructure, has triggered widespread calls for a ban against Israeli sports bodies across the world, including in the West.

Israel is killing Palestinians at an average rate of 250 people a day in Gaza, which exceeds the daily death toll of any other major conflict in the 21st century, international charity group Oxfam said.

Last week, iconic Palestinian footballer Mohammed Barakat, 39, who played for Ahly Gaza and Palestine national team, scoring 114 goals, was killed when his house in Khan Younis city was bombed by Israeli forces.

During his long association with the Khan Younis Youth Club, which he captained, Barakat was known as “the legend of Khan Younis.”

On January 6, in an Israeli air strike on Deir al-Balah, 42-year-old Hani al-Masdar, one of the legendary Palestinian footballers and a junior coach of the Palestinian Olympic soccer team was also killed.

In November, Palestinian volleyball stars Hassan Zuaiter and Ibrahim Qassia, players of the Friendship Club and the national team, were both killed in an Israeli bombing that targeted the Jabalia camp in the Gaza Strip.

Basketball player for Al-Breij, Bassim al-Nabahin, 27; footballer Rashid Dabbour, 28, who played for Al-Ahli Beit Hanoon; and Ahmad Awad, 21, who represented Palestine’s national football team for dwarfism are among others killed by the apartheid regime since October 7.

Abu-Habel, a doctor who works at Gaza’s Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital, was quoted as saying that the Palestinian territory's football community has “lost a lot” during this war.

“How many should we lose more? The sports community in Gaza is simply collapsing. I am too angry. Sport in Gaza has lost a lot during the war," he lamented.

Boycott calls grow louder

Israeli warplanes have also been pounding civilian infrastructures across the besieged territory, including sports facilities. The historic Yarmouk soccer stadium in Gaza was transformed into an internment and “interrogation” camp by the Israeli military before they destroyed it.

Calls to ban Israeli teams from participating in international sports competitions have grown louder with the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics knocking on the heels, slated to begin in less than five months in Paris.

The International Olympic Committee (OIC) and other leading sporting governing bodies, including FIFA and UEFA, are facing increasing calls to ban the regime-affiliated teams over its war against Palestinians.

In mid-January, more than 300 Palestinian sports clubs, youth centers, as well as civil society organizations, launched a campaign to ban Israel from the 2024 Paris Olympics.

#BanIsrael campaign, organized by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, includes men’s and women’s soccer, basketball, and volleyball teams, some of whose members have been killed during or before the Oct. 7 war.

“We […] call on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to apply its principles and fulfill its obligations by banning Israel from the next Olympic Games to be held in Paris in July 2024, until it ends its grave violations of international law, particularly its system of apartheid and its ongoing genocide in Gaza,” said the campaign.

The campaign added that allowing Israel to join the upcoming Olympic Games in Paris, amid genocide is a “signal to the international community that the IOC approves of the gravest of war crimes.”

The Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), a pan-European political movement founded in 2016 by a group of European politicians including former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, also launched a petition in early January calling on sports governing bodies to suspend Israel from sports and has already gained over 92,000 signatures, as of March 17.

“The International Olympic Committee, FIFA, UEFA, FIBA [the International Basketball Federation], and other sports organizations are complicit as they allow a continuous participation of the occupying apartheid regime in their events,” DiEM25 said.

Eko, a group that works to curb the power of big corporations, also in a petition urged the IOC, FIFA, UEFA, and other sporting federations to ban Israel’s sports teams from international competition due to its “slaughtering of Palestinians.”

The petition which has garnered over 128,000 signatures so far, criticized the IOC for continuing to allow Israel to take part in the event despite undermining the Olympic spirit meant “to build a peaceful and better world.”

A letter, shared on X, formerly Twitter, by Irish MEP (Member of European Parliament) Chris McManus and signed by several other MEPs, also called on FIFA, UEFA and “all other competent bodies to take decisive action.”

“This letter to FIFA and UEFA signed by myself and other MEPs from different political groups of the European Parliament, is to request the immediate expulsion of the Israeli national team and teams from all European and international competitions until the genocide in Gaza ends,” McManus wrote.

Israel’s weaponization of sports

Over 350 of Ireland’s best-known sports stars from the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), and Camogie Association, as well as former Ireland soccer and rugby internationals and many others also signed an open letter by “Irish Sports for Palestine” in mid-January calling for an sporting ban on Israel.

“What is happening in Gaza is genocide. A system of apartheid—a crime against humanity—is being imposed on Palestinians," the strongly-worded letter read.

"Despite criticism by the UN and respected international organizations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the International Rescue Committee, Médecins Sans Frontières, Israel has made clear its intention to continue to violate international law."

In February, six Irish basketball players refused to play against Israel in a women’s tournament while the rest of Ireland’s team refused to shake hands with Israel’s players at the EuroBasket 2025 qualifier in Riga.

Rebecca O’Keeffe, former Ireland basketball player and pro-Palestinian activist, and also one of 350 athletes who signed the open letter, said while sport is “a channel for soft power” Israel is “weaponizing” it for propaganda purposes.

“So when you say you’re penalizing Israeli athletes, you’re making a stand and a statement, and you’re saying there’s going to be the isolation of Israel on all fronts, including cultural and sporting because these aren’t just taken on their own. It’s part of collaborative efforts,” she asserted.

Intersection of sport and politics

Historically, teams have been banned from the Olympics over politics. Under massive global pressure from activists and advocates, the IOC banned apartheid South Africa from the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo and the 1968 Games in Mexico City.

In 1970, the IOC expelled South Africa from the Olympics, and the country did not return until 1992 when Nelson Mandela supported a mixed-race squad that participated in Barcelona.

Strangely enough, the IOC made it clear earlier this month that Israel will compete at the upcoming Olympics in Paris.

“No, there is no question about this,” IOC president Thomas Bach said when asked if Israel could be banned from participating.

However, the IOC’s recent announcement has thrown a spotlight on the blatant double standards of the Switzerland-based nonprofit that oversees the Olympic games and claims to oppose the politicization of sports.

Late last year, the IOC banned the Russian Olympic Committee from participating in the Paris Games due to Moscow’s military operation in Ukraine, a clear sign of politicization of sports.

Russian athletes would now be able to participate in Paris only as neutrals without the Russian flag or national anthem, as long as they do not publicly support the Ukraine military campaign or actively work with the military or national security agencies.

Israel, which is more than five months into its genocidal war on Gaza, having already killed nearly 32,000 Palestinians and destroyed civilian infrastructure, is still allowed to compete in the biggest sports carnival.

IOC said in November that Russia presents “a unique situation and cannot be compared to any other war or conflict in the world,” what critics say shows that IOC is “kowtowing to Western powers” and “proves its political bias.”

Journalist Karim Zidan wrote in an opinion piece published by the Guardian in January that the IOC’s treatment of Russia and Israel sends a “troubling message” regarding the perceived value of human rights and dignity.

“By refraining from applying the same standards to Israel as they did to Russia, these sporting organizations appear to suggest that Palestine, as a member state and participant in major international events, is not deserving of the same level of sympathy, dignity, or the commitment required to uphold their fundamental human rights,” Zidan wrote.

#BanIsrael campaign in its statement in January slammed the IOC for its “selective” and “hypocritical” approach in this regard.

“The IOC applies the principle of political neutrality hypocritically and selectively based on the global political context and the interests of the colonial powers that dominate it.”

It also slammed the Olympic sports governing body for “threatening” athletes and officials who take a moral position against Israel with “swift action” when Palestinians are being subjected to genocide in Gaza.

“When it comes to Israel’s decades-old system of military occupation and apartheid, the IOC imposes the harshest penalties not on Israel but on the sports federations and individual athletes who dare to speak out against Israel’s human rights abuses or who take moral stances in solidarity with Palestinians,” it said.

French complicity in Gaza genocide

Last month, 26 French lawmakers, belonging to three left-wing parties, called for sanctions against Israel in the upcoming summer Olympics for its “unprecedented war crimes” in Gaza in a letter to the IOC president.

However, in response, the IOC announced it will continue to maintain “the representation and status of Israeli sports at the highest levels,” saying the position of the group of “extreme” French lawmakers does not reflect the position of the French government.

“We are in constant contact with the Israeli embassy in France and consult with them on the matter as well. The Israeli delegation to the Olympic Games is preparing for the largest sporting event in the world, an event of human excellence and we are excited for the privilege of leading the delegation and representing […] Israel,” the IOC said.

On Wednesday, Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo said she hoped Russian athletes would be banned from taking part in the Paris Olympics and their opening ceremony.

Israeli athletes, however, should be fully welcome, she said.

The mayor also echoed the IOC stance saying Israel cannot be compared to Russia.

“Sanctioning Israel in relation to the Olympic and Paralympic Games is out of the question”, she said, “because Israel is a democracy.”

This comes as opposition parties and pro-Palestine activists have repeatedly called on the French government to reconsider arms sales to Israel in the wake of the regime’s genocidal war on the besieged territory.

Last week, several French government institutions were hit by a string of cyberattacks of “unprecedented intensity.”

The cyberattacks took place after Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s defense adviser warned that the Olympic games in July and the European Parliament elections in June could be “significant targets.”

On Saturday, hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters gathered at the Fountain of the Innocents on the initiative of the France Palestine Solidarity and Euro Palestine Associations to express support for Palestine.

“The French government is complicit and contributes to the criminalizing of the boycott campaign of Israel. This should be stopped as soon as possible to save lives,” said Euro Palestine Association President Olivia Zemor.

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