International paralympic body protests Malaysia's ban on Israeli swimmers
AP Photo/Oded Balilty
The International Paralympic Committee expressed disappointment Saturday after Malaysia said it would not allow Israeli swimmers to attend a competition in the country that will serve as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
Malaysia is one of a number of Muslim-majority countries that has no formal diplomatic ties with Israel, with entry to the country on an Israeli passport prohibited.
The city of Kuching in the eastern Sarawak state will host hundreds of swimmers from 70 countries from July 29th to August 4th.
But on Thursday, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said Kuala Lumpur would deny visas to Israeli para swimmers seeking to attend the meet.
"We maintain our stand on the prohibition. If they do come, it is a violation," he was quoted as saying by the official Bergama news agency.
"If they (the International Paralympic Committee) want to withdraw Malaysia's right to host the championship, they can do so."
The IPC said in a statement that it was "disappointed" with Mahathir's comments, although it would aim to "find a solution" to the issue.
Malaysia has long supported a two-state solution in the Palestine-Israel conflict, and thousands took to the streets to protest in December 2017 when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state's capital.
Malaysia also publicly condemned the Australian government's decision to recognize West Jerusalem as Israel's capital at the end of last year.
In 1997, the Israeli cricket team was allowed to play in the 22-nation International Cricket Council Trophy tournament in Kuala Lumpur despite violent street protests.
It was the first official visit by an Israeli sports delegation to Malaysia.
In 2010, Israeli muay thai boxer Ilya Grad had also made history by receiving special permission to come into the country to appear in a reality TV show in which he slept, ate and trained with fellow boxers during the day, and fought them in the evening.
"The producers demanded that I carry a flag of Russia, the country I was born in. It was absurd, and I explained to them that if I was forced to do that I would fly back home immediately," Grad told Ynet. "They eventually gave in and waved our flag on prime time TV"
Malaysia is not the only country in the world in which Israeli sports teams find it difficult to get representation.
Israeli athletes routinely find themselves having to circumvent diplomatic restrictions on travelling to countries that do not recognize the state of Israel.
This means that even if they are allowed to compete, they cannot do so under the Jewish state's flag, or using its symbols.
Last year, the International Judo Federation succeeded in pressuring the UAE to allow Israeli judoka to compete in Abu Dhabi under full recognition.
The Israelis went on to win two gold medals, with many in the Israeli media also underlining this was part of a larger trend of warming links between Israel and the gulf states.
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