I love the Olympics. I’m a sucker for almost all sports anyway, but when I watch and cheer sports that we generally don’t care about until we can wrap ourselves in good old-fashioned jingoism? All the better. Team handball? I’m in. Water polo? When is it on? Synchronized diving? Bring it on.
There is something amazing about witnessing athletes genuinely thrilled with getting any medal. A lifetime of hard work nets you third place? It’s an accomplishment worth celebrating, rather than lamenting not winning. It also offers a great lesson to kids that learning a sport, getting better at it, and competing to the best of your abilities is worth celebrating, no matter the score. No better example of that than when Israel’s Yarden Gerbi won bronze in judo.
So we’re a week into to Rio 2016, and I’m at least a week behind on sleep because of it. Sadly, however, the games took an ugly, early turn, that has unfortunately been overshadowed by the actual competition. But these sad, scary incidents should be talked about and remembered as much we do great swims or artistic gymnastics routines – and they started before the games technically got underway.
According to a Facebook post from Israeli sailing coach Udi Gal, the Israel delegation on its way to the Opening Ceremony was scheduled to ride a bus with the Lebanese Olympians.
“Once the Lebanese team realized they were sharing the same bus with us, they asked the driver to close the door, in order to prevent us from getting into the bus. This event occurred with the support of the head of the Lebanese delegation,” Gal wrote. “The organizers tried to split us to different buses, which didn’t make sense in terms of security and representation. I insisted and we insisted that we get on the intended bus, and indeed, the driver opened the door, only, this time, the head of the Lebanese delegation physically blocked the entrance. The organizers tried to prevent an international incident and sent us aside to a special vehicle. But it didn’t matter because the incident already happened!”
A few days later, Gal posted again about the incident in response to the global media requests:
A couple of days later, a Saudi Arabian judoka forfeited her first-round match and was due to face an Israeli had she won. Media reports are conflicted; the Saudi delegation says she withdrew on the advice of team doctors due to injuries.
It’s not just Israeli athletes facing this type of un-Olympic indignity. According to The Independent, “Serbian officials have told their athletes not to appear on any of the medal stands alongside their Kosovan counterparts, despite their athletes only competing in two events.”
In the wake of the bus incident, Gal wrote “How is it possible 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 and work against it?”
Gal is right, obviously. The Lebanese delegation should be sanctioned for their behavior, as should the Saudis if an independent physician finds there was no injury. Unfortunately, too often the politics of the real world intrude on what should be 16 days of sport. But as Jews, going all the way back to atrocities of Munich (and well before, for that matter), we already knew that.