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2020 Olympics: IOC cracks down on political discrimination

by Richard Gladwell 21 Feb 13:10 PST 22 February 2019
Yoav Omer (ISR) - RS:X Gold medalist 2016 Youth World Championship, Auckland December 2016 © Pedro Martinez / Sailing Energy

The International Olympic Committee has come down hard on those involved in the exclusion of two Pakistani athletes and one official who were entitled to participate in a 2020 Olympic Qualifier that was being hosted in neighbouring India.

The case has parallels to similar exclusions in sailing in the lead-up to the 2016 Olympic Sailing Regatta, where Israeli sailors were excluded from world championships and the World Sailing Youth Worlds by countries who also had an estranged diplomatic relationship with Israel. In both the Boys and Girls event, Israeli sailors won the Class Youth World Championships the previous July and were clear favorites to do the same in December 2015 in Langkawi. Yoav Omer

In Sailing the practice was not uncovered until the effective exclusion of Israeli boardsailors from the 2015 World sailing Youth Worlds in Langkawi, Malaysia. They included the class RS:X Youth champions Yoav Omer and Noy Drihan (ISR), who were clear favorites for the Boys and Girls World Youth Championship respectively, five months later. After being excluded in Malaysia, Omer underlined the discrimination by winning the 2016 title in Auckland.

The issue went unnoticed until picked up by the sailing media, who were soon backed by some MNA's including USA and New Zealand, who called for action to be taken.

Click here for US Sailing statement in December 2015

Further investigations revealed that the practice had been endemic in the sport for several years, with Israeli sailors either having visas declined or put on slow processing, for events which were Olympic qualifiers for sailors residing in the qualifier region. A blind eye appeared to have been turned to the situations.

The Israeli issue with the Youth Worlds had been noted by then ISAF at the time the regatta had been allocated several years previously, but no action taken until the reigning world champion's name was missing from the entry list.

Subsequently World Sailing reviewed all World Championship and Qualifiers requiring an undertaking from the organisers and their governments that all sailors would be entitled to compete on an equal basis, and would be entitled to display their countries national flag and have their anthem played at medal ceremonies. Some regattas were, mainly in the Middle East, were reallocated as a result of that undertaken not being given by organisers and their governments. Protocols were put in place to attempt to ensure that there could not be a reoccurrence, and that the practices were unacceptable.

No retrospective action was taken.

This week, in a similar circumstance, the International Olympic Committee has come down hard on a Shooting qualifier, withdrawing the Qualifier status from the event, which was due to get underway on the weekend.

In taking its action the IOC has stated that: "This situation goes against the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, in particular the principles of non-discrimination, as well as the IOC’s and the Olympic Movement’s position, reiterated on many occasions over the past few years, that equal treatment must be guaranteed for all participating athletes and sporting delegations at international sports events, without any form of discrimination or political interference from the host country."

The Indian/Pakistan situation appears to have similarities to the 2015 Youth Worlds where government officials claimed ahead of the regatta that there were security and other issues, and after the regatta tried to make political capital by making media comment that they had been able to successfully exclude Israeli competitors.

The full statement just issued by the IOC is as follows:

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) Executive Board (EB) today revoked the Olympic qualification status of the 25m rapid fire pistol event of the International Sports Shooting Federation (ISSF) World Cup Rifle/Pistol. The competition is taking place in New Delhi, India, from 20 to 28 February 2019.

The IOC was informed on 18 February that the Indian government authorities failed to grant an entry visa to the Pakistani delegation comprising two athletes and one official who were meant to participate in the ISSF World Cup. This is a qualification competition for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 in which direct quotas are earned by the respective National Olympic Committees (NOCs). The two Pakistani athletes were due to compete in the men’s 25m rapid fire pistol event, starting Saturday 23 February, in which two quota places are available for the Games.

The IOC restricted the withdrawal of recognition as an Olympic qualification event to the 25m rapid fire pistol competition in which the two Pakistani athletes were supposed to participate. This happened in the interest of the other 500 athletes from 61 countries participating in the other events who are already in India for their competition.

Since becoming aware of the issue, and in spite of intense last-minute joint efforts by the IOC, the ISSF and the Indian NOC, and discussions with the Indian government authorities, no solution has been found to allow the Pakistani delegation to enter India in time to compete.

This situation goes against the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter, in particular the principles of non-discrimination, as well as the IOC’s and the Olympic Movement’s position, reiterated on many occasions over the past few years, that equal treatment must be guaranteed for all participating athletes and sporting delegations at international sports events, without any form of discrimination or political interference from the host country.

As a result, the IOC Executive Board also decided to suspend all discussions with the Indian NOC and government regarding the potential applications for hosting future sports and Olympic-related events in India, until clear written guarantees are obtained from the Indian government to ensure the entry of all participants in such events in full compliance with the rules of the Olympic Charter – and to recommend that the IFs neither award to nor hold sports events in India until the above-mentioned guarantees are obtained.

The ISSF was asked to make a proposal on how the two available Olympic quota places will now be otherwise reassigned.

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