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IOC Nixes Call for Israel Expulsion

May 22, 2002

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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) _ IOC president Jacques Rogge rejected calls by Iran for Israel to be expelled from the Olympic movement for its military campaign against the Palestinians, saying politics should not interfere with sports.

The dispute over the status of Israel emerged Wednesday as the world’s 199 national Olympic committees opened their general assembly in the predominantly Muslim country of Malaysia.

Despite pressure from Iran and some Arab countries, Israeli delegates were granted visas and allowed to attend the meetings.

However, in a sign of the political sensitivities here, no high-ranking Malaysian government official attended the opening ceremony, and the Israeli flag was not displayed with the other national flags.

Iranian Olympic officials recently sent a letter to Rogge and other Olympic leaders urging them to expel Israel for committing ``genocide″ against the Palestinians.

But Rogge made clear the International Olympic Committee would not act against Israel.

``We have received a letter which will be forwarded to the executive board as a matter of routine,″ he said. ``That doesn’t mean the IOC will change its position. The IOC has always had a policy of not letting politics interfere with sports.″

IOC vice president Kevan Gosper echoed that view.

``It really is not a matter for us,″ he said. ``We’re here for sport. The proper forum is the United Nations.″

Iranian Olympic chief Mostafa Hashemi, who sent the letter to Rogge, said the IOC should abide by its own charter.

``The Olympic Charter talks about peace and cooperation and says there should be no discrimination,″ he said. ``The Israelis are committing genocide. With genocide, it’s not possible to make peace.″

Hashemi said he would not raise the issue during the three-day assembly but would wait for a ruling by the IOC board, which meets Saturday through Monday.

Zaher Akram, assistant secretary general of the Palestinian Olympic delegation, claimed 134 athletes had been killed and numerous sports facilities destroyed during recent Israeli military operations against suspected terrorists.

``If the IOC decided to cut Israel out of the Olympic movement, then it would be good,″ he said.

The head of the Israeli Olympic committee, Zvi Varshaviak, downplayed the anti-Israeli comments and said he was happy with his delegation’s treatment here.

``Everything is OK,″ he said. ``We have visas. If we want to speak in the meeting, we can speak. We can go where we want.″

Israeli IOC member Alex Gilady added: ``We think our hosts acted in an excellent manner to fulfill every protocol obligation. And the very warm welcome was icing on the cake.″

Tunku Imran, head of the Olympic Council of Malaysia, said the government had resisted pressure to keep Israel out. Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

``They understood they had to allow the Israel delegation into Malaysia,″ he said. ``It’s an obligation. If you are going to be hosting international events like this, the rule is everybody gets in.″

However, the absence of Malaysian dignitaries at the opening ceremony was noted by conference officials. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi had been expected to formally open the assembly, but did not appear.

A spokesman for Abdullah cited a tight schedule, including a Cabinet meeting. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who normally chairs Cabinet meetings, was overseas.

While 198 recognized Olympic committees had their national flags hanging from the roof of the conference room, Israel did not. The Israelis did have tiny flags at their table, as did the other delegations.

Since Malaysia has no relations with Israel, the playing of Israel’s national anthem and display of its national flag are not permitted, Imran said.

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