Palestine solidarity on display at US Olympic Trials
During the marathon trials last week, several US athletes raised Palestinian flags as they crossed the finish line while activists held demonstrations during the race.
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“The world of sports has turned its back on Palestine.”
This was the opening line in a speech given by Dr. Katarina Pijetlovic during the 2024 Play the Game conference in Trondheim, Norway. Her talk underscored the glaring disparity in international sports organizations' reactions to the war in Gaza compared to their responses to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
I was present for her presentation and witnessed the ensuing heated debate, during which an Israeli attendee challenged Dr. Pijetlovic's assertions while his peers heckled her from the audience. This tense incident served as another illustration of the repercussions faced by those who advocate for Palestine.
Despite these concerns, athletes and activists continue to show solidarity with Palestine, most recently in Orlando, Florida during the US Olympic Trials.
Last Saturday, several athletes contending for a spot on the US Olympic Team in the Men’s Marathon finished their races carrying Palestinian flags. The athletes each took a flag from a bystander with approximately a half mile to go in the race, and crossed the finish line holding the flags, posing for photos with larger Palestinian flags upon completion of the race.
“We are all competing to represent our country. This forces reflection on what this country currently represents,” said Julian Heninger of Bowerman Track Club Elite in Portland, OR. “After months of war and heinous acts, we have the largest international governing body on the planet, the International Court of Justice, demanding that Israel prevent acts of genocide against Palestinians, and we have over 70% of Americans that support a ceasefire. Yet here we stand with our executive branch overriding the will of its own people and dragging us into deeper conflict in the region. The louder we can make our voice to demand a future for Palestinian people and its tragically targeted youth is why speaking up and out and using a platform such as the Olympic Trials feels so important to me.”
“South Africa was banned from the Olympics and other international sporting competitions for decades due to its apartheid policies,” said Jesse Joseph of the Jacuzzi Boys Athletic Club in Portland, OR. “Sports and cultural boycotts and sanctions were an important part of building international support for the South African anti-apartheid movement. Israel has not only been violating international law for decades by upholding a system of apartheid and occupation, but has now been found by the International Court of Justice to plausibly be committing a genocide. Israel should not be allowed to participate in international competitions, generating positive PR for Israel, as if everything is normal. Genocide is not normal. Apartheid and occupation are not normal.”
Orlando community groups including the Orlando Democratic Socialists of America and Central Florida Queers for Palestine also held a demonstration during the race, carrying Palestinian flags, and engaging with spectators.
In a statement, Orlando DSA said that it “firmly condemns the ongoing acts of genocide and apartheid committed by Israel and its enabling by the United States, which have resulted in the death and displacement of countless Palestinians. Israel must be banned from international sporting competition until its apartheid status ends.
In a remarkable display of unity, athletes from across the nation have joined hands with the local community in Orlando to send a powerful message to the world, demanding an end to the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli government against the Palestinian people. Orlando DSA recognizes and applauds the courage of these athletes who have chosen to use their platform to join us in speaking out against this injustice and advocating for the rights and dignity of the Palestinian population.”
The 2024 Olympic Games are set to take place Paris this summer from July 26 to August 11. The International Olympic Committee is yet to take action against the Israeli Olympic committee, despite calls from more than 300 Palestinian sports teams to ban Israel from international sports competitions due to the indiscriminate bombardment of Palestinians in Gaza.
At least 85 Palestinian athletes, including 55 football players, have also been killed since the beginning of the war, the PFA confirmed in a recent report cataloging Israel’s sports violations. The figures included 18 children and 37 teenagers. Since then, more names have been added to the list, including Hani Al-Masry, the former football player and general manager of Palestine’s national Olympic team.
There is a legitimate case for sports sanctions against Israel, as I opined for The Guardian in a column last month. In it, I reflected on the fact that the “glaring disparity in the treatment of Israel and Russia by the IOC and Fifa sends a troubling message regarding the perceived value of human rights and dignity, particularly in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By refraining from applying the same standards to Israel as they did to Russia, these sporting organizations appear to suggest that Palestine, as a member state and participant in major international events, is not deserving of the same level of sympathy, dignity, or the commitment required to uphold their fundamental human rights.”
After more than four months of a war that has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza, the urgency for sanctions has never been greater.
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