Hostility Towards Israeli Athletes in the 2016 Olympics

Hostility Towards Israeli Athletes in the 2016 Olympics

Julia Paul

Israel competed in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil from Aug. 5 to 21, 2016. They sent their largest delegation ever this year, with 47 athletes competing in 17 sports. The Olympic Games are supposed to represent unity between the countries of the world. At the games, athletes put politics aside and engage in the international festivities. Unfortunately, conflicts between Israel and the rest of the  Middle East were not forgotten during the 2016 Olympics.

After the Lebanese team boarded a bus provided by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), on the way to the Opening Ceremonies, their next stop was to pick up the Israeli team. When they arrived at the hotel where the Israeli delegation was residing, the head of the Lebanese team, Saleem al-Haj Nacoula, told the bus driver to close the door, according to The Washington Times, so that no Israelis would enter the bus. The trainer of the Israeli sailing team, Udi Gal, prevented him from doing so. Nacoula then stood in front of the doors to the bus, physically preventing the rest of the Israeli delegation from entering the vehicle. In order to avoid an international incident, the IOC decided to compromise with the Lebanese and charter a separate bus for the Israeli team. Nicola later told Lebanese media that the Israeli delegation had been “looking for trouble.” After many protests from Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the IOC issued a reprimand toward Nacoula. Regardless, he was hailed as a hero by the Lebanese.

Gal released a statement to the world which summed up the thoughts of many citizens, “How is it that they let something like this happen, and on the opening night of the Olympic Games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represent?” If the Olympic Games are the supposed to represent the best that each country has to offer, how is it that such atrocities can happen?  

Each year, at the Opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, the Olympic Oath is taken. It is a solemn promise made by an olympic athlete and a judge, representing the athletes and officials in the Olympic Games. They recite the oath which states that they will “respect and abide by the rules… in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of the sport and the honor of the teams.” Respect was not portrayed towards the Israeli athletes, and the promise to be sportsmanlike was was not fulfilled.

Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, told the Jewish News Service that the Lebanese delegation’s behavior is not surprising considering that the Iranian-backed terror group Hezbollah controls a large portion of Lebanon. However, “the Lebanese bus incident was… unique because it spilled over into a physical confrontation.”

Later, there was an incident with a Saudi judo fighter, Joud Fahmy, who dropped out of the first round to avoid competing against Israeli Gili Cohen in the second round of the tournament, explains The Jerusalem Post. The Saudi team manager said that Fahmy couldn’t compete because he was injured, but Israeli media, did not believe his claim. A few days later, Egyptian judo athlete, Islam el-Shahaby refused to shake hands after losing to Or Sasson, his Israeli opponent. Islam el-Shahaby was ordered back to the mat to bow, as the crowd booed him.

Israeli judo athlete Or Sasson proudly wears his bronze medal. Photo from

Obviously, these Muslim nations did not get the message of unity, peace, and respect that the Olympic Games are supposed to embody. Politicizing the Olympics is the absolute opposite of what the Olympics stand for. These acts were a disgrace to the world and show that we are far from peace in the Middle East. Similar anti-Semitic attacks have been displayed throughout many years of the Olympic Games. Although this is not as extreme at the Munich massacre at the 1972 Olympics, where 11 Israeli team members were taken hostage, and eventually killed, along with a German police officer, by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September, the hatred shown towards Israel is apparent in many international events.  

Israeli Yarden Gerbi won a bronze medal in Judo at the 2016 Olympics. Photo from 

Although Israel received much hostility in the 2016 Olympics, this did not stop them from being successful competitors. The Times of Israel says that Yarden Gerbi received a bronze medal in judo, making her the first medal winner since the 2008 Olympics. A few days later, Or Sasson, despite confrontation with his Egyptian opponent in the first round, received a bronze medal as well, showing the world that Israel is a strong nation, even after being subjected to senseless hatred.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of HBHA’s student publication. The editorial student staff of the “Rampagewired” places the highest value on student-run journalism and responsible, free expression. The “Rampagewired” accepts unsolicited opinion pieces for its Op-Ed page from students, staff, and the community. Columns typically run 750 to 1,000 words in length. Those most likely to be published deal with timely and newsworthy issues in a well-reasoned, incisive, balanced, and compelling way, and, in the case of already well debated topics, they should present a new perspective.  Contact: [email protected] or [email protected]