When politics creep into sports it is usually bad. Now, this is not to say it is always bad, or that sports have always been divorced from politics. Far from it. Or that the sport world is not the place for a political stance. When done correctly it can bring about change that may have gone overlooked (see; Jackie Robinson). Sometimes it is a necessity because the actors know they are on a stage watched by millions. However, the vast majority of the time, when politics bleeds into the sport arena, it is a recipe for disaster. What gets lost most of the time when politics enters the equation is respect for your opponent. And when respect for your opponent goes out the window, the true meaning of sports gets lost; sports are a meritocracy where two sides engage to decipher who is better while playing with the same set of rules. S One side might be clearly better than the other and win 100 times out of 100, but at the start of the match, the score is tied and everything is equal. When politics become more important than the game, that equality is lost, and that is an affront to sports.
This past weekend the sports world was once again subverted by the nastiness of politics. For the latest atrocious incident, we must travel to the United Arab Emirites. The U.A.E. hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Judo tournament this past weekend, ending on Saturday. The U.A.E. is a Muslim country and has no diplomatic ties with Israel. Israel has a very proud combat arts history, and this includes Judo. So naturally a handful of Israelis went to compete in the tournament. However, the U.A.E. Judo Federation refused to recognize the Israeli competitors, forcing them to fight in IJF gis (judo uniforms) just as they did when the tournament was held two years ago. This is an obvious example of politics shaming the world of sports. Depending on your politics (a phrase that should never be uttered in relation to sports), you might agree and believe that this was a shameful practice, or you might say that is just something Israel and her competitors have to deal with. But if you truly love sports and everything they stand for, you would know that sports should almost always be separate from politics. If not, grotesque instances like this can occur:
That is Moroccan fighter Aziza Chakir showing off impressive backpedaling speed after her loss against Israeli judoka Shir Rishoni. Hand-to-hand combat sports are ironically some of the most respectful competitions out there. “Absolute respect for the opponent,” is literally in the rules of the sport. A bow before each match, a bow after each match, followed with a handshake. After literally striking or tossing your opponent, at the end of the match, you show them respect because you engaged one another as equals. That respect is always there… unless politics subverts the natural progression of the combat.
This would have been international news and denounces by every country… unless it was Israel. Why does Israel get singled out? Politics. Whether you agree or disagree with everything Israeli/Middle Eastern, it is clear from videos like the one above that politics can turn something pure into something disgusting. It would have made even more news… except the world was privy to something equally as jarringly pitiful during the most recent Olympics in Brazil.
That is Egyptian fighter Islam el-Shehaby refusing to shake hands with Israeli judoka Or Sasson after Sasson flipped him for the win. The Olympics to their credit booted el-Shehaby from the games because what he did was an affront to everything judo is about, the Olympics are about, and what sports are all about. The announcers to their credit immediately shame el-Shehaby as they should; it was a shameful act deserving of condemnation. The announcers did not see an Israeli get disrespected by an Egyptian, they saw one fighter disrespected by another, and in the world of sports that cannot be allowed. And it would never happen unless somebody willfully injected their politics into something that is supposed to be pure.
That is Tal Flicker. Israeli judoka. After he won the gold this weekend. That is not Hatikvah, the Israeli National Anthem. That is the Anthem of the International Judo Federation. That is not Tal Flicker singing the words to the IJF anthem. That is Flicker singing Hatikvah. Here is why:
To any other country in the world this would be a international incident. Yet, as of this writing, the initial video has been viewed fewer than 50,000 times, and the explanation fewer than 20,000 times. But because of the vileness of politics, this type of incident will get overlooked and discarded. It is only allowed because of politics and politics has adulterated something pure. A few weeks ago I had the privilege of watching the Trinity College Bantams and Hamilton College Continental football teams sing an impromptu version of the National Anthem when the public address system malfunctioned. The video garnered more than 100,000 views. It did so because the response was so pure. Despite what the comments say, this was an act devoid of politics. It was college students who are playing for the purity of sport, doing something that came natural. They respected the sport and they respected their opponent. But things do not always work out so simple because life is not simple. However, that is why sports are glorious. Sports are simple. Here are the rules, here is how you win. You and your opponent are equal at the start and you should respect your opponent. Bringing politics into the sporting arena has a nasty habit of making you forgot to respect your opponent and when you forget to respect your opponent, you have lost… no matter what the scoreboard reads.