Banning Israelis from squash championship is Malaysia's shame - editorial

This whole controversy could have been avoided if the organizers would have known in the first place that the decision to move the tournament to Malaysia was problematic.

 Malasian flag. (photo credit: terimakasih0/Wikimedia Commons)
Malasian flag.
(photo credit: terimakasih0/Wikimedia Commons)

The Men’s World Team Squash Championship was canceled this week after Malaysia, which was supposed to host the event, banned Israeli players from attending.

While it is okay for countries to have disputes, sports is viewed as above politics – though not, apparently, for Malaysia, which plays according to its own antisemitic and anti-Israel rules.

A simple guideline should be applied across the world of sports: countries that ban Israeli players from participating should be prevented from hosting any sporting event. Period.

The World Squash Federation said it “believes in an open and inclusive Men’s World Team Squash Championships, and the possibility that some nations would be unable to compete due to the lack of confirmation over the issuing of visas and travel authorizations by the National Authorities has led SRAM [Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia] to inform the WSF of the decision to cancel.” 

The cancellation was papered over by the appearance of the new corona variant dubbed Omicron. The event, which was supposed to take place on December 7, had already been moved once, from New Zealand, due to the pandemic.

The Israeli team to the  Men's World Team Squash Championship.  (credit: ISRAEL SQUASH ASSOCIATION)The Israeli team to the Men's World Team Squash Championship. (credit: ISRAEL SQUASH ASSOCIATION)

But this whole controversy could have been avoided if the organizers would have known in the first place that the decision to move the tournament to Malaysia was problematic.

There must be a clear list of all countries that prevent Israeli players from attending, and those countries should be systematically banned from hosting any sports event that is intended for participants from across the globe.

This should apply to other fields as well. If a state discriminates against a country or a player for other reasons, such as race, they should not be given the privilege of hosting championships. This isn’t a difficult process. There are 193 sovereign states that are members of the United Nations, and world sports organizations, and organizations devoted to other activities like chess, are well familiar with their member states. There is no reason that the handful of extremist regimes such as Malaysia, Iran, Pakistan or similar states should be considered as venues.

The Israel Squash Association thanked the World Squash Federation for its decision. “As lovers of sports in general and squash in particular, we know how difficult it is to cancel a tournament,” said ISA chairman Aviv Bushinsky. “When all parties realized Malaysians are banning Israelis from playing, I was grateful to read the president’s letter affirming a commitment to our participation.”

As a sign of Israel’s openness, Bushinsky offered Israel to host World Squash Federation events – which would mean welcoming athletes from countries like Malaysia. No problem. Israel has never treated regimes hostile to it, like Malaysia, the way those countries treat Israel.

This is no small matter. Malaysia is a country far away from Israel. There is no history of conflict between the two but nevertheless, Malaysia’s former prime minister,   Mahathir Mohammed, has openly admitted to being a vehement antisemite.

In a 2003 speech to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, he claimed Jews “rule the world by proxy.” He sought to encourage the 57 Muslim countries assembled to oppose Israel, clearly linking his hatred of Jews to his hatred of Israel. This is because hatred of Israel is almost always motivated by hatred of Jews.

Countries like Malaysia not only ban Israeli athletes, they push antisemitism globally through support for people like Mahathir. 

Mahathir’s comments haven’t ceased since 2003, yet he was still given a platform by Western universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Columbia – which claim to support progressive values like tolerance – to spout his modern-day Nazi-like speeches that he uses to mock the Holocaust and claim Jews are “hook-nosed.”

This shows the uphill struggle in educating the public about the nature of antisemitism and how corrosive it is.

Luckily today, there are many Arab countries, such as the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco, that are encouraging religious tolerance. New relations with Israel are part of this embrace of moderation. The world can learn from the religious tolerance coming from the region, and should avoid countries like Malaysia until they open their door to all athletes and turn away from the politics of hate.