Israeli video gamers arrived in Riyadh over the weekend to compete in the world championship of the FIFA electronic game.
The three-member team, which is second place in the world, flew to Saudi Arabia via the UAE and entered the country with their coach and manager on their Israeli passports, a very rare occurrence. They will be allowed to display the Israeli flag with Hatikvah playing in the opening ceremony on July 16, in accordance with the FIFAe World Cup's rules.
Initial photos of the gamers in Riyadh show them wearing blue and white shirts that say Israel on them.
בהמשך לדיווח שלנו אתמול, תמונות ראשונות של שחקני נבחרת הפיפ"א הישראלית בריאד, בירת סעודיה, עם חולצות כחול לבן. נורמליזציה או לא זה בהחלט דבר שלא רואים כל יום https://t.co/KeDuMxLfWT pic.twitter.com/cP9xIDNKtU— roi kais • روعي كايس • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) July 8, 2023
However, the team will not show that they are Israeli in public, but will not hide their identity in the tournament, Team manager Zvika Kosman told KAN.
FIFA, not the Israeli government, negotiated with the Saudi government to ensure that Israelis would be allowed to enter, Kosman said.
The Saudi government wrote a letter saying all participants would be allowed in, without mentioning Israelis.
The Israeli e-athletes will be guarded by local government and private security, not by Israelis.
Political context for Israelis competing in Saudi Arabia
Israel's participation in the e-sporting event comes as the US has pushed for normalization with Saudi Arabia.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said last month that the effort to have the two countries establish diplomatic relations is "incredibly challenging, hard, not something that can happen overnight...but it is also a real prospect."
In January, the US Embassy in Israel hosted the first Abraham Accords Esports Peace Games with competitors from Israel, the US, UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco playing video games.