I’m beginning to think that as many dramas occur before the limelight at the Olympics, an equal number occur quietly on the side. Luck was definitely not on the side of the Iranians back in 2013 when a camera captured the manipulations of an Iranian coach. I’ve watched this clip about 50 times (no kidding). At first, I felt bad for the wrestler, until I realized that he was more a nasty child than a mature adult attempting to compete in an adult’s world.
When I watched the entire clip, as aired by Al Jazeera, I no longer felt bad for the Iranian wrestler. He is arrogant, childish, immature. There is nothing of the Olympic spirit in his temper tantrums shown on-screen. But I believe there IS a lesson for the Olympic community in watching this clip. This is what the Iranians did at an international competition and would at the Olympics, if given half a chance.
Watch as this wrestler cries, whines, throws his temper tantrums. And watch and read what his coaches do and say in an attempt to comfort him. They sanction his ignorance and arrogance while building and feeding his hatred.
He is, in short, a product of a society that is so busy trying to live up to the fabricated and twisted interpretations of their religion that they have become incapable of understanding that compassion, kindness, and humanity must always balance the use of strength and force. As I watched the clip, I thought of the times I have seen grace at the Olympics and other sporting events.
In 1988, Lawrence Lemieux abandoned the race and his very real chance of winning a silver medal to save the lives of two men from the Singapore team whose boat had capsized. That is the Olympic spirit.
In 1992, Derek Redmond, in pain and misery, refused to leave the Olympic track. As he limped forlorn and defeated to the finish line, his father ran out and supported him. He might not have gone home with the gold medal, but there was no better example of endurance, determination, and honor than shown that day.
The beauty of competition is found among those who remember, in victory or in defeat, to be the one who puts out his or her hand out to others. The one who remembers that the Olympics is about so much more than a medal. I think of Or Sasson who reached out before millions of people around the world, only to be rebuffed by a petty sore loser.
Ultimately, the fact that the pettiness and hatred of the Lebanese, the Egyptian, and the Saudis at this year’s Olympics should be a clarion call to the International Olympics Committee (IOC). That acts such as the Lebanese blocking the Israeli team from entering a bus and other hateful actions, were not punished by the IOC means that they sanction these anti-Israel, anti-Semitic and very “un-Olympic” behavior. In truth, I write to the IOC with little real hope that they will listen. It took them 44 years to properly honor the Munich 11; what real hope is there that they will lift a finger to eradicate antisemitism?
To the International Olympics Committee:
I have been watching you for 44 years; since I was 12 years old. I started watching the Olympics for the first time, but in the end, my eyes focused on you. I waited. I watched. I prayed. I remember few things from my childhood but I remember the shock when I heard that terrorists had entered the Olympic village in Munich and taken Israeli athletes hostage. I remember the anger as I heard that security was so lax, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the terrorists would succeed.
I remember the deep sense of betrayal, of isolation, when you ordered that the games continue, while Israeli lives were endangered. From the moment the terrorist were reported to have entered the Israeli complex, the games lost all meaning for me. You were wrong in Munich in how you handled the attack against Israelis, and you were wrong again in Rio in failing to respond to the “attacks” against Israelis there.
The Egyptian judoka refused to shake hands with the Israeli. This was not the act of one man but of a team. Reports say you sent him home (if that is even true, what real value does it have? He’d lost already so his part was finished). Did his team condemn him?
The bus carrying the entire Lebanese team to the opening ceremony should have been diverted to the airport the minute they blocked Israelis from getting on the bus. Did the Lebanese team issue an apology, state there was a misunderstanding?
“I am putting this ice on your hand so we can forfeit due to medical injury,” the Iranian couch told the Iranian wrestler back in 2013. The insidiousness of those words are theirs to bear; the insult of similarly petty and insidious actions at the Rio 2016 Olympics represents your cowardice.
The Olympics is nothing if the honor of the games is allowed to be tarnished by nations who betray the very essence of what those days represent. In 1972, the image of the Olympics was shattered by gunfire, wounded by hatred and violence. This year, it was further betrayed by the cowardice of the IOC, who once again chose to abandon the Israelis to the mercy of the others.
Only this time, thankfully, the threat did not come in the form of bullets and explosives. It was delivered as insults, bullying and antagonism. The incredible irony is that Israel came home with two medals and a team that is celebrated as heroes here. Heroes because they played in dignity, despite all attempts to humiliate them.
When the Olympic organizers attempted to scramble and divide the Israeli team on other buses when the Lebanese blocked them, the Israelis refused. They would enter the stadium as a team, or they would not enter at all. The humiliation, ultimately, boomeranged onto the Lebanese. Thus it was with the Egyptians and the Saudis and thus it will be for the IOC.
Back in 2013, the Iranian team didn’t allow their wrestler to go on the mat and so he never had an opportunity to find out whether he would have beaten the Israeli. In 2016, that was the story with the Saudis in Rio.
Ultimately, whether or not these Arab sportsmen would have won or not, what is lost is the honor of the competition. In 1972, the Munich Olympics were overshadowed by violence, hatred and death. That is the strongest memory most people have. In a very real way, while we buried 11 amazing men, you buried your honor, your dignity, your sense of justice.
I grew up with the saying that “Justice delayed is justice denied” (William Gladstone). You denied a just moment of respect for those men for 44 years. Will you now deny a just response to the bullying and hatred that occurred under your noses at the Olympics in Rio?
In Rio 2016, it was proven that bullying would be allowed, so long as Israel was the target. I call on you to lay down the rule now. In the future, if any member of a team refuses to compete for political reasons, the entire team will be immediately discharged from the games, their participation in any current, previous or future competition during that Olympics canceled. Likewise, any team that bullies another will be immediately discharged from the games.
And, though you cannot strip the Egyptians of the medals they won in Rio, you can demand letters of apology from the Lebanese, the Saudis, the Egyptians and the Iranians – and tell them that until such letters are delivered, their teams will not be allowed to compete.
The question now is whether you’ll have the
courage to act as Derek Redmond, Lawrence Lemieux, Or Sasson and others or whether you’ll act like the Iranian wrestlers and scramble to make excuses.
The destiny of the honor of the Olympic games is up to you.