Prime News Ghana

Rio 2016: Israel, Arab political tensions surface at Olympics

By Jeffrey Owusu-Mensah
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Tensions between Israel and other Arab nations have been rekindled at the ongoing 2016 Olympic Games in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro.

The modern Olympic Games started to promote peace and unity within the international community through the medium of sports, has to a large extent lived up to that purpose and Rio 2016 was expected to be no different.

But the pulling out of a Saudi judo competitor in the first round of the competition on Sunday, ahead of a prospective second-round bout tie with an Israeli rival seems to have political undertones as Israeli and Saudi accounts offered different reasons for Joud Fahmy's withdrawal.

Though the Saudi Olympic delegation tweeted that Fahmy's withdrawal from the games was because of injuries she had picked up in training and that the Saudi medical team had advised her not to participate, reports in the Israeli press claimed she decided to leave the competition because she could meet Gili Cohen, a 25-year-old five-time Israeli champion, in the next round if she managed to secure a victory against Christianne Legentil from Mauritius.

Saudi Arabia does not recognize the State of Israel, but a Saudi delegation traveled to Jerusalem in July to meet with Israeli officials, in a sign of warming ties between the two countries.

In the end, Legentil advanced from the initial round of 32 by default after Fahmy's withdrawal, moving into the round of 16 to face Cohen, who she beat.

In another move that angered Israeli officials, the Lebanese delegation at the Games refused to permit Israeli competitors on board their bus, giving rise to lingering political tensions between the two countries.

Israel and Lebanon are still technically at war since the 2006 conflict between Lebanese Shiite militant group Hezbollah and the Israeli military. Organizers were forced to put Israeli athletes on a separate bus.

According to The Times of Israel, the head of Lebanon's delegation, Saleem a-Haj Nacoula, said that the Israeli members of the delegation were "looking for trouble" in their insistence of getting on the same bus, Newsweek reported.