IOC hosts Israeli-Palestinian sports talks

Palestinian athletes were promised IOC funding and Israeli support to prepare for the London Olympics.

IOC 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
IOC 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) – Israeli and Palestinian Olympic officials met Thursday to begin building closer ties and help send stronger teams to the 2012 London Games.
IOC President Jacques Rogge brokered a five-hour gathering at Olympic headquarters that addressed lifting Israeli travel restrictions to allow Palestinian athletes and coaches more access between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Palestinian athletes were promised IOC funding and Israeli support to prepare for the London Olympics.
The parties hailed the “positive and constructive” meeting, and agreed to study the travel issues before returning to Lausanne in March.
That’s when they plan to present proposals to their governments.
“We believe that through sport we can make a difference. I hope today we made the first steps,” Efraim Zinger, secretary general of the Israel Olympic committee, told The Associated Press.
Zinger described Palestinian Olympic leader Jibril Rajoub as a partner in the process.
Rajoub said it was “a common choice for everybody” at the meeting to seek ways to help Palestinian athletes and teams compete internationally.
“It is my dream as Palestinian national Olympic committee president to participate in next year’s Olympic games by an army of athletes,” Rajoub told The AP.
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.
Zinger said Israel was committed to hosting the Palestinian team at training camps and coaching seminars, and share its knowledge of sports science and medicine.
“We are there and in advance we said ‘Yes’ for any request regarding assistance for the preparation of Palestinian athletes for the Olympic Games,” Zinger said.
In a wide-ranging discussion, Israel also sought IOC help to increase its participation in Olympics sports.
There was discussion of Israel and Palestine being accepted into the Mediterranean Games, a quadrennial multi-sports event that will be hosted by Greece in 2013.
“That is something the IOC agreed to engage more actively on,” Zinger said.
“Every Israeli athlete or coach or sport person has the right to participate in sports events, conferences and meetings that are under the patronage of the IOC or one of the international federations.
That is part of the Olympics charter.”
Palestinians also need IOC assistance to change “realities on the ground,” which include international opponents being affected by travel limitations, Rajoub said.
Rajoub, who is also president of the Palestinian soccer federation, said his team must be allowed to play a home match next month against Thailand. It counts toward qualification for the London Olympics tournament.
“It is a priority for me,” he said.
Restrictions enforced by Israel on athletes’ movements helped eliminate the Palestinians from 2010 World Cup qualification. The Palestinian federation could not send a team to a return match against Singapore in October 2007 and forfeited. Asian qualifying for the 2014 World Cup is scheduled to start in June.