The Olympic Spirit is supposed to promote healthy sports competition, divorced from political or more serious differences between countries whose athletes choose to compete.
In ancient Greece, warring city-states called a truce before each Olympic Games. The Olympic Truce lasted from a week before the competitions began to a week after they ended. In this way, athletes, spectators and pilgrims were assured physical safety. The idea of the truce was revived in the modern Games, and last October, 180 of the 193 members of the United Nations General Assembly voted for a resolution calling for a truce in the Olympics now being held in Rio de Janeiro.
That day, International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach told the General Assembly: “In the Olympic Village, we see tolerance and solidarity in their purest form. Athletes from all 206 National Olympic Committees live together in harmony and without any kind of discrimination.”
That sort of tolerance and harmony were absent on the eve of the Games, when the Israeli delegation sought to get on a bus to take them to the opening ceremony. The Lebanese delegation was already on the bus and they blocked the Israelis from entering. A different bus for the Israeli delegation was quickly found.
Israel and Lebanon are at war. But in Olympic tradition, that shouldn’t prevent them from taking the same bus to an Olympic event. And in fact, the head of Lebanon’s Olympic Committee received a dressing down on Sunday from the Games’ organizers, warning the delegation not to repeat such behavior. The head of the delegation had told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble.”
“The behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation contradicts the Olympic Charter,” Gili Lusting, head of the Israeli delegation, said in a statement. The charter says “the goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” The Lebanese delegation violated that ideal when they prevented the Israelis from getting on the bus.
The admonition of the Lebanese Committee reportedly was intended to discourage other delegations whose countries don’t recognize Israel from similar un-Olympian behavior. Nonetheless, when Saudi Arabian judo fighter Joud Fahmy forfeited her match last week, citing an injury, the Hebrew press speculated that she dropped out so that she wouldn’t have to face an Israeli opponent in the next round. Days later, after being defeated by Israeli judo fighter Or Sasson, Islam El Shahaby of Egypt refused to shake the hand of his opponent when it was offered.
Such actions prompt an even more fundamental sporting admonition than did the Lebanese: If you don’t want to play with others, get out of the sandbox.