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Tensions Between Lebanon and Israel Flare Up at Rio Olympics
Israeli athletes were barred from boarding a bus filled with Lebanese athletes headed to the Olympic opening ceremony in Rio on Friday. Now the two Olympic delegations are engaged in a war of words over the cause of the altercation.
Gili Lusting, head of the Israeli delegation, says Olympic organizers instructed them to take the bus to the Maracanã stadium. However, he says Lebanese officials physically blocked them from boarding the bus for political reasons.
“The organizing committee saw the blunt behaviour of the head of the Lebanese delegation and immediately arranged a different bus for us,” Lusting said in a statement to the Associated Press. “The behaviour of the head of the Lebanese delegation contradicts the Olympic charter.”
Salim al-Haj Nakoula, head of the Lebanese organization, admits that they prevented the Israeli athletes from boarding the bus. However, he insists the bus was reserved solely for them, and that the delegation from Israel was “looking for trouble.”
Eventually Rio Olympic organizers arranged for a separate bus to take the Israeli delegation to the opening ceremony.
The altercation between the Lebanese and Israeli Olympic delegation comes on the 10-year anniversary of the 2006 Lebanese war, during which the Israeli Defense Force invaded southern Lebanon after Lebanon-based Hezbollah attacked Israel and kidnapped two Israeli soldiers. Though that conflict lasted just 34 days before a ceasefire was reached, the two nations have technically been at war ever since and currently have no diplomatic relations.
For his part, Lebanon’s Salim al-Haj Nakoula insists the “problem is finished” and their delegation is in Rio only for sports. However, some of the Israelis are not ready to let it go.
Sailing coach Udi Gal expressed his thoughts in a Facebook post on Friday night.
“How is it that they let something like this happen, and on the opening night of the Olympic Games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represent and [don’t the actions of the Lebanese delegation] work against it? I cannot describe the way I feel. I’m enraged and shocked by this event.”
Gal fallowed that up with another post on Saturday.
“We are here as a delegation of athletes, here to represent their nation through sports, not politics. The Israeli delegation includes many outstanding athletes, who are first and foremost human beings. This shameful incident has only motivated us. The Olympic spirit is the most important thing and we’re here to protect it and carry it with pride.”
According to the IOC, however, there is no issue.
“We spoke to both National Olympic Committees and they told us they consider the matter closed.”
Hopefully this statement will prove true.