In response to nation’s ongoing refusal to grant Israeli visas to enter the country for the upcoming 2019 World Para Swimming World Championships, Malaysia has been stripped of its rights to host the event, the International Paralympic Committee announced Sunday.
“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination,” said IPC President Andrew Parsons. “When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host.”
Parsons cited Malaysia‘s change in leadership in May 2018 as a reason for the previously unforeseen issue.
“In September 2017 when the IPC signed the contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (NPC Malaysia) to host the World Para Swimming Championships, we had assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured,” he said. “Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas. Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.”
Parsons continued: “The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion. Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries.”
Malaysia, a majority-Muslim country, has long enforced a policy of disallowing Israeli passport-holders from entering the country due to a lack of diplomatic relations between the two nations. Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad reaffirmed that policy in the context of the meet in early January: “We will not allow them [to enter]. If they come, then it is an offense,” he said. “If they want to withdraw the championships’ hosting rights from Malaysia, then they can try to do so.”
“Every country has the right to accept or refuse entry of anybody… You can see that in America now they are erecting a very high wall to prevent Mexicans from going to America,” he said. “We have the same idea, that people who are undesirable for our country will be kept out of our country.”
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Malaysian Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman stood by the policy following the IPC‘s decision.
“Malaysia stands firm with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise,” he said in a statement. “If hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for our Palestinian brothers and sisters who get murdered, maimed and tortured by the Netanyahu regime, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass.”
The city of Kuching was set to host hundreds of swimmers from 60 countries for the meet, which is scheduled for July 29th to August 4th, 2019. It serves as one of the possible qualifying opportunities for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics. To be eligible for Tokyo, para-swimmers are supposed to have competed at either a WPS World Series event, Worlds, any WPS Regional or Regional Open Championships, or the 2019 Parapan American Games in the timeframe of October 1, 2018 through the 2020 WPS European Open Championships (the dates of which have yet to be announced).
Parsons said that the IPC is now seeking applications for a new host. “We will strive to maintain the same dates and conditions for the Championships as to not upset the training schedules of athletes who aim to peak for the end of July and early August,” he said. “However, we may need to be flexible in this area bearing in mind the circumstances we face.”
Due to the devastating earthquake that struck Mexico City in late 2017, the 2017 edition of the WPS World Championships were postponed by a month and saw a number of athletes drop out of the event.