Saifuddin: Ban on Israeli para swimmers remains

Swimmers

Malaysia remains steadfast in not allowing Israeli para athletes to compete in the 9th World Para Swimming Championships.

Foreign Minister Datuk Saifuddin Abdullah said every aspect was thought through before the decision was made.

He said the matter was discussed during the Cabinet meeting last Wednesday and the Cabinet agreed not to issue visas to Israeli para swimmers to compete in the qualifying event for the 2020 Paralympics.

Some observers believe the country’s political stand on Israel should be relaxed when it came to sporting events. The International Paralympic Committee has expressed disappointment over the decision, adding it would seek a solution ahead of the competition from July 29 to Aug 4 in Kuching.

Malaysia does not have diplomatic ties with Israel but is reported to enjoy “a booming but discreet trade relationship”. This was even highlighted by PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in his blog on Sept 15, 2014.

“The current status is straightforward; we will not host (events) if we know there is an Israeli team or organisation involved,” said Saifuddin, adding the matter was raised and discussed during the Wednesday Cabinet meeting.

“Since we have agreed to (host) this para swimming meet, we will not issue visas to the Israeli athletes.

“Unfortunately, this is the decision.”

When pointed out this was a sporting event involving para athletes and that the decision seemed to go against the virtues of fair play and sports being colour blind, Saifuddin said:  “We discussed all these things in the Cabinet … we took into the consideration all the factors and we were very sure this was the right decision to make.”

In 2011, the FA of Malaysia (FAM) issued an apology to Chelsea after its Israeli midfielder Yossi Benayoun was targeted for racist abuse during a friendly with the Malaysian XI in Kuala Lumpur on July 21 that year.

Malaysia imposed conditions on two Israeli sailors who were supposed to compete at the 2015 Youth World Championships in Langkawi. This led to the Israeli Yachting Association pulling out its athletes from the meet. World Sailing, in its report published on Jan 13, 2016, said, among others that “in the event of a breach at a regatta, World Sailing shall at its discretion impose sanctions on the member national association concerned. These may include non-selection as a future venue, denial of appointment of World Sailing race officials to future regattas in the country and/or cancellation of membership of World Sailing.”

In 2016, the Israelis also withdrew from the World Team Table Tennis Championships in Kuala Lumpur after they were denied entry. A year later, Malaysia opted against hosting the 67th Fifa Conference as an Israeli delegation would have attended.

However, several Israeli officials – including a former minister and deputy ambassador – took part in the week-long World Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur.

Then Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman clarified the Israelis were invited by the United Nations though the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) and that the government’s position on Israel remained “unchanged”.