What about Yemen? Palestine? Arabs denounce sports 'double standards'
The sports world was mobilized following the war in Ukraine but maintains silence over the war on non-Western countries.
Russia's special military operation in Ukraine has drawn unprecedented sanctions that caused its ban from most international sports.
For many Arabs, who have seen their own sportsmen and women punished for refusing to compete with Israeli athletes, the exception made for the war in Ukraine exposes double standards.
Solidarity with #Ukraine is being shown across stadiums worldwide, breaking the sports no-politics doctrine.— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) February 28, 2022
On the other hand, athletes and football clubs were fined and even punished for showing support for #Palestine.
Who's politicizing the matter? #Russia pic.twitter.com/GVZ6Sxjyfl
Commenting on the situation in Ukraine, Egyptian squash champion Ali Farag had recently said this month that "nobody should be happy about what's going on."
"We've never been allowed to speak about politics in sports but all of a sudden now it's allowed," he highlighted.
"Now that it's allowed, I hope that people also look at oppression everywhere in the world," he pointed out.
The Egyptian athlete underscored that "the Palestinians have been going through that for the past 74 years but I guess because it doesn't fit the narrative of the media of the West, we couldn't talk about it."
Wholesale bans on Russia, unprecedented support for Ukraine
Days after the beginning of Russia's special military operation in Ukraine, football governing bodies FIFA and UEFA swiftly suspended Russia from all international competitions. Similarly, Formula One suspended its contract with Russia, barring it from hosting its Grand Prix in Sochi.
However, the bans on Russia coincided with unprecedented support for Ukraine. The blue and yellow colors of its national flag were displayed at all English Premier League matches on the first weekend of March in a show of solidarity.
#Formula1 drivers have been posing for pictures in front of the #Ukrainian flags while wearing "No War" t-shirts and choosing to ignore one fact: The ongoing #Saudi-led coalition war on #Yemen. #StandWithYemen pic.twitter.com/XQcQtoZD08— Al Mayadeen English (@MayadeenEnglish) March 22, 2022
What about Yemen? Syria? Libya?
"International sports associations, including FIFA, have banned any political or religious expression on the sports field," said James Dorsey, a senior fellow at the National University of Singapore's Middle East Institute.
"What they have done now is they effectively have lifted that for Ukraine. There is Palestine of course, but what about Yemen? Syria? Libya?" he wondered.
In the past, sports governing bodies have tolerated some exceptions to the general ban on making political statements, but they have all been short-lived.
During the Israeli occupation's war on the Gaza Strip last May, England's Football Association announced that players would not be punished for raising the Palestinian or Israeli occupation flags.
But in November, FIFA fined the Scottish Football Association 10,000 Swiss francs (about $10,700) after Scotland fans booed "Israel's" anthem and raised Palestinian flags during an October match between the two sides.
Later, the head of the Palestinian Football Association, Jibril Rajoub, urged FIFA to commit to applying its standards equally.
Talking about double standards, when Algerian judoka Fathi Norine refused to face off against an Israeli athlete at the Tokyo Olympics in July out of solidarity with Palestine, he and his trainer were slammed with a 10-year ban.
In early March, Palestinian midfielder Mohammad Rashid refused to stand with his Indonesian club Persib Bandung when they raised a sign reading "Stop War" at a game.
"I am against any war in any country, but people are dying every day in Palestine and in Syria and Yemen," he said in video remarks published by an Egyptian sports website.
According to Rashid, "When war erupted in a Western country, everyone stood with it, but when people die in Palestine, we are not allowed to show solidarity and are accused of mixing politics and sports."
"It makes us feel like our lives are cheaper than the lives of those in the West," he added.
Politics & sports are inseparable
Senior fellow James Dorsey said keeping politics out of sports was always an impossible goal.
"The idea that politics and sports are separate is fiction. They are Siamese twins inseparably linked at the hip," he considered.
Dorsey pointed out that "the only solution is to acknowledge the relationship."