Two Israeli beach volleyball athletes have sparked a stir on social media among some Qatar residents after appearing in a major international tournament hosted by the Gulf state.
Sean Faiga and Ariel Hilma made history as the first volleyball players to represent Israel in an Arab state, the Israeli Volleyball Association (IVA) said on Facebook. The pair won their qualifying match at the 2016 Qatar Open on Monday before losing in the second round and returning home today.
Athletes in other sports, including swimming and tennis, have previously represented the Jewish state in tournaments held in Qatar. However, Faiga and Hilma’s attendance was kept under wraps until they arrived Sunday in part because they only received their visas last Friday, the IVA added.
As word of their appearance at the tournament spread, some residents condemned their presence on Twitter using the hashtag #لا_للتطبيع_الرياضي_في_قطر (“No to normalizing relations in sports in Qatar.”)
Translation: I have said it (before) and will repeat it. As a Qatari citizen, I do not accept the presence of Zionists on Qatar’s land, whether it’s for sports or any other field.
Translation: How can (we) do both, (help in) the reconstruction of Gaza and (host) those who have and continue to destroy it and kill its people?! Sports is based on ethics first!!
Translation: Normalizing relations at any level is unacceptable, and is considered evading the Arab’s rights in Palestine and acknowledging an angry, arrogant and blood hungry entity.
Others weighing in on the debate said immigration employees should have blocked the athletes from entering the country:
— Eng. Ali Al-Saadi (@ajalsaadi) April 5, 2016
Translation: I have previously asked my brothers working in (the airport) not to stamp the passports of the Zionists and prevent them from entering (the country) and I repeat that request today.
Others, however, suggested that the hands of officials hosting major sporting tournaments in Qatar are tied:
Translation: The issue is not about normalizing relations, but about implementing sports rules that are imposed on us and any country that hosts world championships, no choice.
Translation: There’s a difference between politics and sports. Unfortunately, Israel is an official state despite of all of us. Their presence won’t harm us or Palestine.
Israel operated a trade office in Doha for more than a decade before it was closed in 2009 following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
In 2013, many residents complained about the Israeli flag being flown outside the Hamad Aquatic Center at the Aspire Zone during the FINA Swimming World Cup. The flag was eventually removed.
Several days later, the world swimming body issued a warning to local tournament organizers after Israeli swimmers had been removed from television coverage and efforts were made to avoid listing them on results tables.
Israel subsequently participated in the 2014 competition without any visible controversy. The country’s flag was seen flying outside the venue that year and its swimmers were shown on broadcast monitors.
At this week’s event, the Israeli athletes were treated warmly by their hosts and had strict protection from both local and Israeli security guards, according to the Times of Israel, citing a broadcast interview with IVA chief executive Yaniv Newman.
This week’s beach volleyball tournament is being held at the Al Gharafa Sports Club and continues until Friday. Entry is free, according to organizers.