Demands for an Olympic ban and sports ban for Israel – DW – February 20, 2024

Because of the war between Israel and Hamas, calls for Israel to be excluded from international sports competitions have become increasingly louder in recent weeks – especially from the left-wing political camp. A petition that has received widespread support, a letter to the European Parliament and the comparison with Russia’s attack on Ukraine are increasing the pressure on major sports associations.

Left network calls for exclusion

The “Movement for Democracy in Europe 2025” (DiEM25) calls for Israel to be excluded from sport. DiEM25, whose best-known figures include the former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, is a left-wing, Europe-wide network that claims to be against the power of the oligarchs in Europe and for real democracy. By February 19, DiEM25 had received over 70,000 signatures in a petition calling for Israel to be excluded. “The purpose of the petition is to put pressure on the Israeli government from a sporting perspective,” Katarina Pijetlovic, one of the petition’s co-organizers, told DW.

Corresponding demands also come from politics – here too from the left-wing political spectrum. The left-wing Irish MEP Chris McManus and several other parliamentarians called on the World Football Association (FIFA), the European Football Union (UEFA) and “all other relevant bodies” to take decisive action in a letter.

The 12 members of the West Asian Football Association (WAFF), led by the Jordanian prince and football association chief Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, had previously written a similar letter. In addition, 300 Palestinian sports clubs called on the IOC to exclude Israel from the Olympics.

With the Paris Olympics starting in July and the fact that Israel’s men’s soccer players could qualify in the playoffs in March for the European Soccer Championships in Germany in June, sports officials are under pressure to make a decision soon. UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin admitted that his association was receiving “more and more questions” but had “no final position yet”.

Comparison with Russia’s attack on Ukraine

Especially in view of the high number of victims among Gaza’s civilian population, Israel critics and pro-Palestinian stakeholders would like to see a reaction from the major sports associations. However, according to DiE25’s Katarina Pijetlovic, there has so far been “no action, no condemnation from FIFA, UEFA, the IOC or anyone else.”

The lawyer and sports law expert compares Israel’s actions with those of Russia, which was largely excluded from international sport after the invasion of Ukraine in 2022. “I think the international reaction to this [russische] Aggression was very, very different than what we see now,” she says.

Israel's national soccer players cheer during the European Championship qualifier in Andorra
Possibly at the European Championships in Germany: Israel’s footballers still have the chance to qualify in the playoffsImage: Joan Monfort/AP Photo/picture alliance

For the International Olympic Committee (IOC), however, the suspension of Russia and a possible exclusion of Israel because of the Middle East war are not comparable. “The Russian invasion of Ukraine is a unique situation and cannot be compared with other wars or conflicts in the world, because the measures and recommendations taken by the IOC were a consequence of the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army during the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games Beijing 2022,” the IOC replied in writing to DW’s query. “This was a violation of the Olympic Truce that was in force at the time and a violation of the Olympic Charter.”

The same applies to the admission of the regional Ukrainian sports associations Kherson, Donetsk, Luhansk and Zaporizhia to the Russian National Olympic Committee (ROC), because the territorial integrity of the Ukrainian Olympic Committee was disregarded. However, the IOC recently opened the door wide for Russian athletes when it admitted Russians and Belarusians as neutral athletes.

Peaceful coexistence?

The IOC, however, assessed the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories differently: “In accordance with the Olympic Charter, the Israeli and Palestinian National Olympic Committees have lived in peaceful coexistence for several decades,” it said. The IOC is in contact with both NOCs to support their athletes as best as we can in the current situation.

However, it is doubtful that this “peaceful coexistence” proclaimed by the IOC will continue to exist. Since the attack by Hamas, classified as a terrorist organization by the EU and the USA, on October 7th, in which 1,160 Israelis were killed and around 250 were taken hostage in the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military response has resulted in more than 28,900 deaths on the Palestinian side . This figure is based on information provided by Hamas that cannot be independently verified.

View from a destroyed building in the Gaza Strip after an air strike in Rafah
According to the BBC, after four months of war, around 60 percent of all buildings in Gaza have been destroyed or damagedImage: Ahmad Hasaballah/Getty Images

The Palestinian Olympic Committee office was also destroyed in the bombings in Gaza. Hundreds of Palestinians, including many women, were detained and interned at the Al-Yarmouk soccer stadium in Gaza City, according to the non-profit human rights organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor.

“This blatant and scandalous violation of all agreements joins a long series of violations against Palestinian sport, including the killing and arrest of players,” the Palestinian Football Association said. He called on the IOC and FIFA to investigate crimes against Palestinian sports and athletes. These are acts that “the international sports institutions cannot tolerate, keep quiet and ignore.”

DOSB against exclusion of Israel

The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) is against the exclusion of Israeli athletes and already took a position on it at the end of January. At the time, the association responded to media reports that claimed the Israeli team should be excluded from the U20 World Ice Hockey Championships in Bulgaria. It was not a sanction by the organizers against Israel, but rather security concerns played a role.

In an interview with Norddeutscher Rundfunk, DOSB board chairman Torsten Burmester said at the time that the DOSB did not accept boycotts against Israeli athletes. The Israeli team was finally admitted to the junior tournament by the IIHF World Ice Hockey Federation and all games went off without incident.

The big question is whether, given the situation in the Middle East, this can also be the case at the Olympic competitions in Paris.

The text was partially adapted from English.