The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships because Kuala Lumpur said it would not let Israeli athletes participate.
According to a statement issued by the IPC on Sunday, the decision was made at a meeting of its governing board in London, after Malaysia “failed to provide the necessary guarantees that Israeli para swimmers could participate, free from discrimination and safely in the championships.”
Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted that this “is a victory of values over hatred and bigotry, a strong statement in favor of freedom and equality. Thank you @Paralympics for your brave decision!!!”
The championships were due to be held in Kuching between July 29 and August 4.
Earlier this month, Malaysia’s cabinet decided that Israelis would not be allowed to enter the country for any event.
“Even if we have already committed to hosting an event, they will not be allowed [into the country],” Foreign Minister
Saifuddin Abdullah said at a press conference. He said Malaysia would “not host any event that has representation from or participation of Israel.”
Following that decision, Israel turned to the IPC to either get that decision changed, or to move the venue.
“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit,” the Foreign Ministry said at the time. “Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s rabid antisemitism.”
Mahathir has a decades-long history of antisemitic and virulently anti-Israel comments. “Jews rule the world by proxy,” he wrote in a 2012 blog.
During a BBC interview in October, he described Jews as “hook-nosed.” During the same interview, he said “if you’re going to be truthful, the problem in the Middle East began with the creation of Israel.”
Andrew Parsons, IPC president, said on Sunday: “All world championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination. When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new championships host.
“The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion,” he said. “Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries.”
Parsons said that when the IPC signed the contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia in September 2017 to host the swimming championships, it received assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured.
“Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas,” he said. “Politics and sport are never a good mix, and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”
The 93-year-old Mahathir became prime minister again in May 2018, after serving in that position from 1981 to 2003.
Parsons said a search is now on for a new venue for the championships, which is a qualifying meet for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
Around 600 swimmers from 60 nations were expected to take part in Kuching with more than 160 world titles up for grabs.
Malaysia’s New Straits Times quoted Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman as saying the Malaysian government has no regrets about its decision.
“If hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for our Palestinian brothers and sisters who get murdered, maimed and tortured by the Netanyahu regime, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass,” the paper quoted Saddiq as saying in a statement.
“We would like to kindly remind the IPC that even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the Netanyahu government is an active perpetrator of war crimes,” he said.
“Malaysia stands firm with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise.”
There was no small degree of irony in Saddiq citing Human Rights Watch to blast Israel.
In a 2017 report on human rights in Malaysia, the organization wrote that there are limitations on freedom of speech in Malaysia; that the country “continues to detain individuals without trial under restrictive laws;” that “human rights defenders continue to face legal attacks and arbitrary restrictions on their rights;” that “police torture of suspects in custody, in some cases resulting in deaths, continues to be a serious problem, as does a lack of accountability for such offenses;” that “Malaysian authorities regularly prosecute individuals who hold peaceful assemblies without giving notice or participate in ‘street protests’;” and that “discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people is pervasive in Malaysia.”
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