When Sports Trump Human Rights

The Fundamental Principles of Tennis

by Kim Petersen / February 17th, 2009

It seems there is a backlash to invading and killing and that is being felt within the world of sports, including the genteel sport of tennis. Israeli tennis star Shahar Peer was denied a visa to play a recent World Tennis Association (WTA) event in Dubai. The WTA Tour is now threatening the United Arab Emirates”s future as a venue for WTA events. WTA chairman Larry Scott said there is a principle that sports and politics should not mix.1,2

Jewish Israeli forces recently committed multiple war crimes, killing over 1300 Gazans, wounding more than 5450 Gazans, destroying homes, hospitals, schools, and societal infrastructure, and creating over 85,000 refugees out of a population of 1.5 million. I am unaware of any tennis player from any nation speaking out against this slaughter.

While many of the world”s governments actually sided with the massacre of humans by Israeli Jews, a few states did deplore the Israeli aggression: Malaysia, Mauritania, Qatar, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Turkey among them.

There is growing activism, led by unions and progressivists, calling for boycotts of the Jewish state.3 Academic boycotts are also called for.4 Why should sports not be a part of the boycott?

At the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, 26 nations boycotted the inclusion of Aotearoa (New Zealand) for maintaining sporting relations with the the apartheid states of Rhodesia and South Africa.5

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that segregation on a state”s Olympic teams was wrong. South Africa was expelled by the IOC in 1970.

It is a widely held view that Israel is an apartheid state. A distinction has been made between South African apartheid and Israeli apartheid, in that the latter is more insidious, being premised on committing genocide.6 The recent slaughter in Gaza is but another demonstration of the genocidal intent of the Zionists.

The Palestinian Sports Foundation, Atlas, accused apartheid-state Israel of targeting Palestinian athletes, a violation of the IOC Charter.7

Tennis Principles

Tennis was not so stringent against sporting links with apartheid regimes. It did ban South Africa from international play in 1970 Davis Cup, which re-instated South Africa won in 1974, after India refused to play it in the final. South Africa was again barred from team competition, but individual South Africans were allowed to play on the pro tours.

The WTO chairman voiced concern about fair treatment for Peer.

Peer said in a statement to the AP, “I am very disappointed that I have been prevented from playing in the Dubai tournament. I think a red line has been crossed here that could harm the purity of the sport and other sports. I have always believed that politics and sports should not be mixed.”

Unfortunately, Peer is, indeed, a victim here. Nonetheless, one wonders what Peer believes about human rights for Palestinians, victims of her country”s government”s racist policies. What does she think about the fact that Israeli Jews are living on land that they violently dispossessed the indigenous Palestinians of? What does she think of the red line that Israeli Jews crossed when they invaded and slaughtered Gazans?

What has priority: that a person is not barred from playing a game or that Palestinians are not barred from living in peace and dignity? Does justice for Peer, the individual, take precedence over the fate of an entire people? Peer has an opportunity, few people are so meaningfully presented in life, to sacrifice her love of playing tennis to bring attention to the plight of an oppressed people. Her silence about the plight of Gazans and her right to play tennis speak loudly.

Peer was given no reason for the visa rejection. AP speculated that it was connected to “anti-Israel sentiments” in the UAE, “particularly after last month”s three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza.” The bias in the AP”s reporting is palpable. According to the AP, it was not antiwar sentiments or pro-Palestinian sentiments. The situation was framed as stemming from “anti-Israel sentiments.” It would be quite something to read about AP reports on “anti-Palestinian sentiments” or “anti-Lebanese sentiments” or “anti-Arabic sentiments” in Israel. The slaughter is described as a war, and it is between “Israel” – a state – and “Islamic militants in Gaza.” It is not a “war” between “Jewish militants” and “Islamic militants.” It would not do to acknowledge Palestine as a state; that is reserved for the apartheid state that was spawned in the Holocaust it wreaked on Palestinians: the Nakba.

The WTO”s Scott enounced, “Sports and politics should not mix and the fundamental principles upon which the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour are founded include open and fair competition to all, regardless of nationality, creed, race, religion, etc.”

“That”s not just a principle that our Tour is founded upon, but I think it is the underlying spirit of international sports in general and therefore I think the ramifications of what happened here ripple well beyond tennis.”

Whenever someone invokes fundamental principles, a lofty, moral stance is conjured. At face value these tennis principles sound fine. But how lofty are these tennis principles? They do not specifically appear in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), all 30 of whose articles the Jewish State, arguably, fails to fulfill.

What is a fundamental principle that favors the tennis playing rights of a woman while a people are slaughtered, even though she is not the slaughterer or that athletes from a nation that is a serial violator of international laws, practices open racism, carries out slow-motion genocide, and commits wanton violations of human rights with impunity are prevented from playing to stop the war crimes?

What takes precedence? Sports are not played in a vacuum. Sports are tightly twined with patriotic sentiments.8

The WTA, in consultation with Peer, decided to continue with the tournament to avoid hurting the other players already in Dubai.

It is an often heard refrain that silence equals complicity. Scott said, “She [Peer] didn”t want to see her fellow players harmed the same way she was being harmed.” If only these same sentiments were openly expressed for the long-suffering Palestinian victims of Israel”s war crimes.

1. This principle of not mixing sports and politics does not seem to hold for baseball and US politics. See Kim Petersen, “When It is Okay and Not Okay to Lie to Congress,” Dissident Voice, 11 February 2009.

2. John Leicester, “Dubai tournament risks sanctions over visa denial,” Yahoo, 16 February 2009.

3. “South Africa: Dock workers solidarity with Gaza,” Green Left, 6 February 2009. “CUPE in Ontario votes to boycott Israel,” CBC News, 27 May 2006.

4. Andy Beckett and Ewen MacAskill, “British academic boycott of Israel gathers pace,” Guardian, 12 December 2002.

5. “African nations boycott costly Montreal Games,” CBC Sports, 30 July 2008.

6. See Gary Zatzman, “The Notion of the “Jewish State” as an “Apartheid Regime” is a Liberal-Zionist One,” Dissident Voice, 21 November 2005.

7. Saed Bannoura, “Report: Israeli attacks on Palestinian athletes violate Olympic Charter,” IMEMC News, 6 October 2008.

8. See Kim Petersen, “Sports as War,” Dissident Voice, 11 March 2004.

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim [at] dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

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