Israel, Palestinians hold sports peace talks
Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials reaffirmed their
desire to build stronger ties Wednesday, while failing to make any
tangible breakthroughs during a ”Sports for Peace” meeting in
The session was arranged by International Olympic Committee Vice
President Mario Pescante as a follow-up to initial talks led by IOC
President Jacques Rogge in January.
Palestinian Olympic Committee President Jibril Rajoub pushed for
Israel to allow Palestinian athletes and coaches more freedom to
travel from the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and to make it easier for
visiting teams to play soccer exhibitions.
”This is very important for the Palestinian people and I think
it should also be important for the Israeli people,” Rajoub said.
”The Palestinian players and athletes are not able to move inside
the Palestinian territories and from the Palestinian territories to
Israeli Olympic Committee secretary general Efraim Zinger
responded by calling for an end to instances of some athletes
refusing to compete against Israelis, and invited the Palestinians
to train together for next year’s London Games.
Zinger said he has invited the Palestinian Olympic team to one
if its high-tech training centers.
”We are ready to host the Palestinian Olympic team and help
them prepare for the 2012 London Games,” the Israeli said. ”We
already offered it and I hope that Mr. Rajoub will accept it.”
Zinger disputed Rajoub’s claims over travel restrictions.
”No, they can travel. It’s not a problem,” he said. ”I’m
talking on the sport level. We are ready to offer it, we are ready
to execute it, we are ready to do it.”
Zinger said he hopes the day will come that both Palestinian and
Israeli athletes will ”share the same right as all the other
athletes from around the world.”
”That Palestinian athletes will share free movement to
practice, to compete, and Israeli athletes will be able to compete
all around the world and be invited to all sport events. And that
we will not see this nonsporting picture of an Israeli athlete
waiting in the arena while his opponent from an Arab country, etc.
refuses to compete with him.”
An Israeli basketball team was pelted with bottles by Turkish
fans and forced to flee the court in 2009 and an Iranian swimmer
refused to compete against an Israeli at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
In the 2004 Athens Games, an Iranian judo competitor refused to
face an Israeli.
The Palestinians gained IOC recognition in 1993 and a
Palestinian team competed in the Olympics for the first time in
Atlanta in 1996. Still, only four Palestinian athletes competed at
the 2008 Beijing Olympics, even though the team is entitled to
additional help through the IOC’s solidarity program.
Rajoub cited two examples of how Israeli restrictions have
curtailed sports development. He said the captain of the
Palestinian soccer team, Gaza native Ahmed Kashkash, was not
allowed to return home for 14 months, then was allowed in and has
now been unable to leave again and resume his club career since
Rajoub, who is also the president of the Palestinian soccer
association, said that UEFA President Michel Platini sent him a
supply of sports equipment that was kept in an Israeli port for 16
”I had to pay $30,000 to release the equipment, and as far as I
know even the price of the equipment was not more than $7,000 or
$8,000,” he said ”This is the situation. First the Israelis need
to recognize the Palestinian sports entity, then I think everything
is open, everything is possible.
”Sport should not know borders,” Rajoub added.
The Israeli and Palestinian delegations are due back at IOC
headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, for more talks May 12.
Rome Mayor Gianni Alemanno hosted Wednesday’s meeting and
awarded both delegations a prize.