MALAYSIA was slated to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships in Kuching, an event that is also a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.
But when the government announced it would ban Israeli athletes from the competition, things got messy. The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) maintained its stand that no country should be excluded for political decisions and hoped for reconsideration.
When the government stood behind its decision, the IPC stripped Malaysia of hosting rights.
Now, I commend the government for taking a strong stand against the inhumane treatment of Palestinians; we should never overlook the mistreatment of human beings.
Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic ties. Without special permission, Israelis cannot enter Malaysia and vice versa. I understand this.
What I disagree with is: politics barging its way into the sporting arena. Throughout history, sports has always been a platform for countries to set aside political, cultural and religious differences in the spirit of humanity.
For athletes, the chance to compete is spurred by love of sport and country. Like many of us, they may not agree with what their politicians say or do.
To equate a country’s political decisions to the core beliefs of each of its citizens would not be accurate. It may even be a denial of an individual’s basic human rights.
Politics and sports should never mix because if we justify our decision to ban Israeli athletes for humanitarian reasons, then why haven’t we banned representatives from other countries with poor human rights records too?
Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has reminded the IPC of Israel’s war crimes as reported by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Yet, the Human Rights Watch 2019 World Report has called out Saudi Arabia, Russia, China and Egypt for being “opponents of human rights enforcement”. We have not banned athletes from these countries. Perhaps we have decided which human rights infringements are grave enough.
There are governments all over the world guilty of rights abuses. Yet we welcome their citizens for tourism, political advancement or economic deals.
Choosing to fly the humanitarian flag as a reason for exclusion in sports would therefore compel us to take a more hardline stance against many countries. That, however, is unrealistic for political, economic and social reasons.
The world is growing more volatile; we must safeguard the few remaining channels which promote greater understanding between communities and countries. If peace is our goal, we need to be actively supporting existing platforms of peace.
Sports, in my opinion, is one such platform. Let’s leave politics out of it.