Negotiating a Team: Olympic Committee Brings Israeli and Palestinian Officials Together

Ibrahim Tawil, head of the Palestine Swimming Federation, meets with an Olympic official in Ramallah last March. Photo: UK in Jerusalem on Flickr

With the 2012 London Games fast approaching, International Olympic Committee officials met in Switzerland this past week with Israeli and Palestinian Olympic Committee officials to build a partnership to send stronger teams to the games.

The five hour meeting at Olympic headquarters was held by IOC President, Jacques Rogge, led by Director of Relations Pere Miro and attended by delegations led by Palestinian National Olympic Committee President Major General Jibril Rajoub and Israeli NOC President Zvi Varshaviak.

This was the first meeting between the two countries.  One of the main issues was lifting Israeli travel restrictions on Palestinian athletes and coaches.

Palestine was eliminated from 2010 World Cup qualifications because they were not allowed by Israel to send a team to a return match against Singapore in Oct. 2007, thereby being forced to forfeit.

The IOC is hoping to build a stronger sporting relationship between the two countries.  Palestine was promised funding from the IOC and Israeli support to prepare for the 2012 Games, by way of Palestinian access to Israeli training camps, coaching seminars, sports science and medicine.

“It is my dream as Palestinian national Olympic committee president to participate in next year’s Olympic games by an army of athletes,” Major General Jibril Rajoub was quoted as saying.

In the 2008 Beijing games only four athletes represented the Palestinian team.  The Israeli NOC is also hoping for assistance from the International Olympic Committee so as to be better represented in future Olympics as well.

With both sides and the IOC actively searching and working on positive ways to increase both countries access and participation in international competition, both should be well represented in future events.

Although the meetings went well, this is all determinant upon how each countries governments take the proposals; they are to reconvene with the IOC in March after said proposals.

This is a large, uncertain hurdle because these governments have had their problems coming to agreement in the past, however, by all accounts, it is expected to be accepted by all sides.  Secretary general of the Israel Olympic Committee was quoted as saying that Israel was there “…and in advance we said ‘Yes’ for any request regarding assistance for the preparation of Palestinian athletes for the Olympic games.”

And after what was agreed upon it does seem that he was being genuine.  With the lowered travel restrictions, increased financial backing and access to superior medicinal and training facilities the Palestinians should be well on their way to competing at a much higher level; since 1996 they have been able to send 9 athletes and have yet to receive a medal at the Summer Olympics games.

But beyond sport, this small advancement in an athletic relationship between Palestine and Israel could be a very large step towards greater peace between the countries as a whole.

In the words of the late great college basketball coach, John Wooden, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.”

Zahir has written for several publications over the years while performing as a spoken word artist.