The Dubai organisers of the 2013 FINA World Cup in the United Arab Emirates today stand accused of breaking the international federation’s rules. The FINA Constitution bars “any discrimination against national Federations or individuals (competitors, officials, judges, delegates, etc.) on the grounds of race, sex, religion or political affiliations“.
Dubai hosted the fourth round of the Cup last Friday and Saturday. Today we read this from Israel’s leading swimmer Gal Nevo: “In order that our national flag and name wouldn’t appear, the results of every race we competed in were not publicised. Competitors swim with us in the heats in the morning, and expect to see the results on the scoreboard in order to know whether they’ve qualified for the final. But on the screen they’re already broadcasting the next race, without mentioning the names and times from the previous heat.”
“I watched the broadcast on television of the race in which Amit [Ivry] won a medal. She swam in lane 1, but the broadcast focused completely on the other half of the pool. Of course, there weren’t any results [announced] and it was impossible to know whether she’d finished in third place.”
Nevo was speaking to Haaretz, a publication that starts its report today with a description of discrimination that, if correct (and there is plenty of evidence that it is correct), would have to result in talks between FINA and the UAE over whether the Arab nation is a suitable host for world-class events:
“Three years ago, following a drawn-out, diplomatic-security saga, the Israeli delegation landed in Dubai for the FINA World Swimming Championships (in a 25-meter pool). During the opening ceremony, the announcer mocked the delegation and addressed it by its initials, ISR. The organizers did everything in their power to downplay the presence of Israelis in the emirate.
“Last week, when the Israeli national swimming team returned to Dubai for a World Cup series event, they were again ignored. This time there was no ceremony with a walk-past by national delegations, but in everything related to the scoreboard and television coverage, the organizers prevented the word “Israel” or the Israeli national flag from appearing, thereby causing disruptions both to television broadcasts and in publicizing race results poolside.”
Anyone who watched the live stream from Dubai would be able to confirm that some race results war simply never shown in the way that others were. Nevo, 26 and from Kibbutz Hamadia, told Haaretz that swimmers from other nations sought explanation for why some results did not appear on the scoreboard.
The damning evidence is reflected in this photo, which FINA will surely wish to take up with the UAE and consider issuing an official warning to the federation there:
“Everyone was really surprised to learn what had caused this situation,” says Nevo. “For some, the penny dropped and they said ‘Wow – that’s it! Now I realize why we couldn’t see all the results on the scoreboard’.”
“They didn’t expect it and didn’t believe that politics had been brought into the event in such a crude way. I, for one, was surprised by the tremendous amount of empathy the other swimmers showed for us.”
Alongside Ivry and Nevo, other Israeli swimmers to make finals were Guy Barnea and Yakov Toumarkin. “They sort-of boycotted us, but our achievements made their ignoring us much more prominent,” says Nevo. “It happened too many times, and swimmers from other countries began to notice the phenomenon.”
John Leonard, the Executive Director of ASCA responding to concern among his peers and others in the sport today, said:
“If you (the IOC and International Federations) don’t want Politics in Sport, then don’t allow any.”
Nevo noted the problem was not as severe on day 2 in Dubai as it was on day 1. Perhaps someone had had a word. Under FINA rules and the Olympic Charter that guides all member federations of the International Olympic Committee, none of what is described above should have happen at all.
“We saw a change – Amit was the first to swim in a final, and suddenly we heard the announcer say the word ‘Israel,’” recalls Nevo. “We saw her on the screen and thought maybe it’s a mistake, that one of the producers had failed to notice. There had been a similar mistake the previous day, and then the whole broadcast was disrupted, but this time we realized that the barrier had been breached.
Nevo, announced as coming from I-S-R on day 1, was announced as being from Israel on day 2. That shift marks a significant breakthrough for the Israeli swimmers, thy believe.
“Suddenly you arrive in a country that has refused to recognize you until now, and know that the next time we’ll be here they won’t play those games with us. I don’t know how many television viewers we’re talking about, but the people in the Emirate saw the Israeli flag over and over again, and were exposed to the country’s sporting aspect.”