When Sports Trump Human Rights

The Fundamental Principles of Tennis

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@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.

21 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Rhino Jack said on February 17th, 2009 at 10:14am #

    Your description of Israel’s incursion into Gaza is flawed and not true.
    However, that is besides the point. The point is that if the world used your criteria for international sports participation then definitely the USA and Russia would have all their players banned from international competition and you could add at least 30 other countries to the list including most countries in Europe – Western and Eastern

  2. bozh said on February 17th, 2009 at 10:16am #

    i wonder, had any of these starry stars condemned any single crime by isr/US?
    there must have been at least one?! huh?! OK, OK, maybe none!
    do you think i watch sports, including olympics?
    and my wife, who likes to watch her favorite episodes for fourth time of csi 1,2,3; law nad order 1, 2; police shows, ncsi, and cold case, wld be mad at me if i suggested we watch hockey now and then. thnx

  3. James Hovland said on February 17th, 2009 at 1:32pm #

    When people complain about this, explain it as “collective punishment” and suggest they ask Israel about the strategy, because Israel seem to think it works. The pressure is on, and we’re not backing down.

  4. John S. Hatch said on February 17th, 2009 at 2:10pm #

    I would like to see a serious worldwide boycott of everything Israeli. Treat them like the apartheid scum they most certainly are.

  5. brian said on February 17th, 2009 at 2:14pm #

    ‘particularly after last month’s three-week war between Israel and Islamic militants in Gaza’

    thus the media lies in plain sight. The war was waged in one of the regions of the world most densely populated with civilians! israels IOF showed no compunction against using weapons of mass destruction in this area.

  6. Tree said on February 17th, 2009 at 2:16pm #

    Dubai doesn’t allow Israelis into their country.

  7. Rhino Jack said on February 17th, 2009 at 2:29pm #

    “I would like to see a serious worldwide boycott of everything Israeli. Treat them like the apartheid scum they most certainly are.”

    Quite right! I hope you will practice what you preach and don’t use your mobile phone, your pentium chip computer, don’t scan your credit card at the cashier, and many of the medical procedures used today to save lives.
    Yes, these were (and many other products you take for granted) were developed in Israel. Let’s see how long your boycott lasts?

  8. bozh said on February 17th, 2009 at 3:16pm #

    defenders of israel often say that pals are commited to the destruction of israel. some pals do wish, i conjecture, israel be destroyed or israelis leave their land but how can one without wincing or warping his/her face equate a wish with an actuality?
    actuality being destruction of palestine (near utter by now).

    so, how is a sane man who stole from another person make that person cease with his desire to get his/her property back?
    is it by continuously stealing more from agrieved person and keeping that person in a concentration camp?
    such method hadn’t worked before. ‘Jews’ know this. ‘Jews’ are tacitly saying to pals, You’ll never have a country of your own. You can live like dogs in camps or go s’mwhere else. This is our land and we will never give you an inch of it, if we can help it.

    you are still here only because US OKs it. if it was up to us, you wld have been gone long time ago; we don’t care where you go. You can go to red or dead sea for all we care. thnx

  9. Syd Walker said on February 17th, 2009 at 8:12pm #

    Great article. It’s very important the sport boycott of Israel grows.

    I’ve written an article on my own blog on this topic:
    The anti-Apartheid Struggle is not Tennis at:
    http://sydwalker.info/blog/2009/02/17/an-anti-apartheid-struggle-is-not-tennis/

    As I point out, at least this young athlete has a simple remedy. She can apply for Palestinian citizenship. With a Palestinian passport, doors would open to her all over the world.

    Ethnicity and religion are no bar to Palestinian citizenship.

  10. AaronG said on February 17th, 2009 at 8:38pm #

    I heard on the radio yesterday that “safety” for the player was one of the concerns (ie because of the nation she represents, and because of that nations’ recent actions, there might be a backlash against the indivudual player, either at the tournament or at hotels etc). Don’t know if this is really the case, but it adds to the discussion. I’m only repeating what I heard.

    This argument about sporting boycotts is an interesting one. As a sports lover and fan, I used to mostly agree with the repeated slogan of “sports and politics should not mix” – I just wanted to watch the Aussies pummel the South Africans on the cricket arena. However, look at the situation this way:

    Let’s assume that the tennis player Peer visited Dubai as a tourist in, say, three months time. As a part of her stay she organises a social game of tennis with a local amateur. She thoroughly enjoys the hitout and a good time is had by all. In this sense, yes, sport IS separated from politics, as it should be. However, what is the main difference when Peer represents her country, her sponsors, the WTA, the WTA’s sponsors etc to hit the same ball over the same net on the same tennis court. The answer is obvious. She is not playing sport. She is now working for corporations, possibly the same corporations who are directly or indirectly involved in Israeli corporations through trade or investment.

    So the correct slogan should read “corporations and politics should not mix”. There, that’s better.

    Sport is not sport when the Nike swish is on your hat and owns your life.

  11. Hue Longer said on February 18th, 2009 at 12:23am #

    Great points AaronG and good article Kim

    Kim,

    I have been using your hockey collective idea to talk to Grid Iron fans (I’m an NFL fan and write to chat rooms) who get mad at cities unwilling to be blackmailed (entirely) by owners…It’s an older article, care to link it?

  12. Kim Petersen said on February 18th, 2009 at 12:40am #

    Thanks Hue,

    The article is found here: A Sporting Revolution: The Parecon Hockey League.

  13. dino said on February 18th, 2009 at 12:42am #

    Kim Peterson forgot the boycott of Olympics from Moscow in 1980.Then the “free world” thought as a naturally protest against Soviets invasion in Afghanistan to boycott Moscow and find that is a strong connection between sport and politics.But is strange that Peer received the right to play in Dubai from Israeli’s authorities which forbid Israeli citizens to visit countries like Syria,Lebanon,Iran enlisted as enemy countries.I think UAE is also in the list.However tourists whom mean to travel in dangerous places are advised by the Minister of Internal Affairs not to travel but with Peer, Israel propaganda can’t misses an occasion to show to the civilized world where “Israel living”,in the barbaric Arab world how Ray described it.

    Rhino Jack,if you care to remind the things the Jewish people made in science-this it is not racism?-care to show also the Jewish names from a list like “25 people to blame for economy crisis”.

  14. mary said on February 18th, 2009 at 4:50am #

    The BBC are still giving it full coverage in contrast to their coverage of the onslaught on Gaza and their blocking of the broadcast of the DEC Gaza Appeal. Perhaps if Israel had dealt with the recent aid boats more kindly and humanely and had not inflicted the shoah on Gaza in the first place, all would be well in the tennis world. Israel cannot have it both ways in the Arab world.

    Mr Ram’s words are quoted and you can listen to Mr Scott too.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/tennis/7894485.stm

    PS It will be interesting to see what happens when the Viva Palestina aid convoy of 100 vehicles that is travelling overland to Gaza arrives and attempts to enter. http://www.vivapalestina.org/
    Good on George Galloway, Yvonne Ridley and others for organizing so quickly.

  15. anthony innes said on February 18th, 2009 at 6:22pm #

    The tradgedy in Gaza (palestinian side anyway) got less discussion than the MSM gave the Australian Open.Sport is bread /circus crowd control by corporations working with BIS and the bank cartel it controls .All this does is distract discussion of the corruption at the top.

  16. John Mackie said on February 19th, 2009 at 12:55am #

    Miss Pe’er is the IDF’s newest PINUP girl. For her own safety is was right to refuse her a visa.

    ‘In an event that she described as more exciting than playing Maria Sharapova, tennis star Shahar Pe’er was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces bright and early Sunday morning.
    Pe’er posing outside of the…

    Pe’er posing outside of the IDF Induction Center in Tel Hashomer.

    The 18-year-old’s appearance at the IDF Induction Center at Tel Hashomer outside Tel Aviv created quite a stir, with the IDF spokeswoman assigned to the event commenting that even the Chief of Staff’s visits don’t receive as much press attention.

    And she wasn’t exaggerating, as representatives from just about every Israeli TV and radio station, newspaper and Web site had someone on hand to record Pe’er’s first moments in uniform.

  17. mebosa ritchie said on February 19th, 2009 at 11:58am #

    Hamas: PA tortured and killed our supporter

    nice to see the “massacred” palestinians getting on so well with each other
    The Palestinian Authority said on Wednesday that a Hamas supporter who was found dead in one of its prisons in the West Bank had committed suicide and did not die as a result of torture.
    Muhammad Abed Haj, 30, from Jalkamus, near Jenin, was found dead in his prison cell last week. PA security officers said he had hanged himself by tying a cloth around his neck.

    However, Hamas and Haj’s family rejected the PA’s version, insisting that his death was the result of brutal torture while he was held in solitary confinement. The family released a number of photos showing bruises and cuts on different parts on his body.

    The PA leadership in Ramallah strongly denied that its security forces were torturing detainees, dubbing the allegations as “Hamas fabrications and lies.”

    A PA security source told The Jerusalem Post that Haj was “not an innocent man,” as one of his relatives confessed that he had delivered to him an M-16 rifle.

    One of Haj’s brothers, Abdel Baset, is a top Hamas operative who is in an Israeli prison.

    Haj is the second detainee to die in a PA prison in the past 12 months. The first victim was Majd Barghouti, an imam from Kobar, near Ramallah.

    The PA security forces claimed then that Barghouti, who was accused of supporting Hamas, died from a massive heart attack as a result of heavy smoking. Again, his family and Hamas continue to insist that he died after being brutally tortured during his interrogation.

    The latest case has prompted human rights activists to demand a full inquiry into allegations that many detainees are being subjected to various methods of torture in PA prisons in the West Bank.

    Some of the detainees who were released from PA prisons in the past few weeks reported that they had been physically and verbally abused by their interrogators. One of them, a university student from Nablus, said he was forced to stand in the cold for four days while his head was covered with a stinking plastic bag and his hands tied behind his back. Another detainee from Tulkarm reported being sexually assaulted by his interrogators.

    According to a human rights activist in the West Bank, most of the detainees are held without trial and denied family visits. Most were also banned from seeing a lawyer, he said.

    “The prisons controlled by [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas and [Prime Minister] Salaam Fayad have become centers for torture,” he said. “We are very worried about the serious violations of prisoners’ rights, but we are scared to report about what’s happening in these prisons.”

    In the past three weeks alone, he said, five detainees were transferred to various hospitals for medical treatment after they were severely beaten during interrogation in PA jails.

    One of them, Mus’ab Abu Srour, from Ni’lin, in the Ramallah area, was rearrested on Wednesday after being released from the intensive care unit at Ramallah Hospital. Abu Srour, according to members of his family, was taken to hospital earlier this week after being tortured in prison by PA security officers.

    Mustafa Khawaja, a journalist from the same village, was released from a PA prison on Wednesday. He was arrested last week on charges of filing reports to a Hamas-affiliated media outlet. The journalist is one of seven reporters from the West Bank who are being held by Abbas’s security forces without trial.

    Khawaja’s family said he was beaten and had his head covered with a bag while he was in detention.

    Two other detainees who were transferred to hospital in serious condition are Iyad Asfour, the brother of former Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, Adnan Asfour, and Amjad Elaiwi.

    The two are suspected of supporting Hamas and possessing weapons. They were arrested a few months ago and have since – according to their families – been subjected to various methods of torture by PA security personnel.

    Haj was arrested by members of the PA’s much-feared Preventive Security Service on February 6 on suspicion of membership in an illegal organization (Hamas) and possession of weapons.

    Dr. Yusef Samarah, a prison physician who examined him shortly after his arrest, told a commission of inquiry appointed by Abbas that Haj appeared to be “very tense and panicky.”

    Ra’fat Nasif, a Hamas spokesman in the West Bank, said the PA was holding more than 500 Palestinians on suspicion of membership in Hamas or of being affiliated with the movement. He described the detainees as “political prisoners” and said the ongoing crackdown on Hamas supporters by Abbas’s forces would harm the chances of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

  18. Al Mutanabi said on February 20th, 2009 at 10:27am #

    The idea that sport and politics should not be mixed made more sense in the days of recognized international competitions between amateur athletes of the different nations. Professional athletes competing individually in different countries are no different than any other professional seeking employment and are subject to laws of the host country including obtaining visas.
    In this instance, the real arrogance comes from Peer for thinking that she is entitled to go to the UAE, just after her country has committed such an outrageous aggression against a defenseless population of Gaza and with which she apparently approves.…and then complaining to the WTA.
    Different countries handle the visa process in their own ways, sometimes without due regard to recognized international standards of civilized behavior and perceived ‘red lines’. For example, her own country has recently barred entry to Richard Falk, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories. In his own words;
    “After being denied entry, I was put in a holding room with about 20 others experiencing entry problems. At this point, I was treated not as a UN representative, but as some sort of security threat, subjected to an inch-by-inch body search and the most meticulous luggage inspection I have ever witnessed……… I spent the next 15 hours so confined, which amounted to a cram course on the miseries of prison life, including dirty sheets, inedible food…” (the full narrative is at http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/20021). Of course Mr. Falk had only himself to blame for how Israel treated him, he apparently took his responsibilities as the Special Rapporteur on the Palestinian Territories too seriously, and even prior to that, of being critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Israeli Occupied Palestinian Territories.
    Ms Peer is probably luckier than Mr. Falk though, at least the UAE had the decency to deny the visa before she travelled. Israel knew Mr. Falk was coming all the way from California, they had his itinerary.
    If Scott believes that he would be correct in threatening the UAE with cancelling the event, then we are left to consider what actions the United Nations should be entitled or rather obligated to take when their representatives are treated as Mr. Falk has been.

  19. Angie Tibbs said on February 20th, 2009 at 8:18pm #

    Without providing any facts to prove his allegation,, someone calling himself “Rhino Jack” has declared that Kim Petersen’s “description of Israel’s incursion into Gaza is flawed and not true”..

    In his article Mr. Petersen wrote:

    “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.”

    Did Jewish Israeli forces commit multiple war crimes in Gaza? Yes, they did. Let there be no mistake. The death and destruction these terrorists, masquadering as an “army”, carried out against the people of Gaza in 22 days has given new meaning to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

    Were over 1300 Gazans killed? According to UN figures, yes. Were 5,450 Gazans wounded? Again, UN figures, but one expects that number to be higher bearing in mind the horrific bombardment in such a densely populated area.

    Were not homes, schools (including UN schools), hospitals, and the infrastructure of Gaza destroyed? Yes, a devastation of monumental proportions to every aspect of Gazan life.

    You find this a “flawed” and “not true” description?”

    Readers will note that Mr. Petersen presented appropriate research to back up his description of the terrorist attack on Gaza. “Rhino Jack” presented nothing.

  20. mary said on February 28th, 2009 at 3:33am #

    The boycott on Israeli sport in general and tennis in particular is succeeding. The Davis Cup tie between Sweden and Israel will be played in Malmo without any spectators.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/feb/28/tennis-israel-gaza-davis-cup

    The sequel to the story of Miss Peer was that she received financial compensation of $44,250 plus points and the UAE championship organizers were fined $300,000. Mr Ram lost his opening double match.

    Some small satisfaction here for the victims of the Cast Lead shoah.

    http://www.adnkronos.com/AKI/English/Sport/?id=3.0.3052671113

  21. mary said on March 8th, 2009 at 6:26am #

    Back to the story of Israeli tennis and protests.

    They have played Sweden in Malmo and lost. There were 6,000 protestors according to this UPI report which PLEASE do NOT click on – a virus has just this very minute arrived on it when I checked to make sure I had copied it correctly! I wonder who put it there?
    (www.upi.com/Sports_News/2009/03/07/Thousands_protest_at_Israel-Sweden_match/UPI-28671236465481/)

    but of course the the BBC report the estimated number as ‘dozens’ just as they reduced the number of people who assembled in London’s Hyde Park in January from 100,000 to 5,000.

    No wonder we call them the Z(ionist)BC.
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7930432.stm

    They have also failed to report the arrival of the Viva Palestina aid convoy’s arrival at the Rafah gate. Perhaps they are waiting to see how many Palestinians the Israelis can kill in today’s air raids.
    http://www.presstv.ir/detail.aspx?id=87884&sectionid=351020202