Responding to online furor over Israeli participation in a sports competition in Doha this week, a flag at Qatar’s Aspire Zone that has been flying, among others, outside of the Hamad Aquatic Center has been removed.
Several nations’ flags were raised as part of the FINA Swimming World Cup 2013, which the Aspire Zone hosted on Sunday and Monday. The international tournament featured athletes from all over the world, including Israel.
A row began brewing online after a tweet complaining about the Israeli flag flying outside of Aspire was posted on Sunday evening:
— إم الصوص (@SaraAlDisi) October 20, 2013
According to one resident, the flag was taken down by the next afternoon:
— Danijel Poropat (@vzla71) October 21, 2013
Last night, a security guard at the site told Doha News that staff removed the flag around noon on Monday because many people were taking photos of it. It is not clear who was responsible for taking it down. When reached for comment, an Aspire media representative said to speak to Aspire Logistics, which is in charge of venues.
The removal of the flag has satisfied some, but a local group said Qatar must go further than that, and revoke its long-standing invitation to Israeli athletes over the nation’s human rights abuses.
Qatar, which has long been a champion of the Palestinian cause and just promised some $150 million in debt relief to the Palestinian Authority yesterday, has had a strained relationship with Israel in recent years.
Last year, the former Emir ruffled feathers when he made a historic visit to Gaza, the first head of state to do so since Hamas took power in 2007. And in 2009, an Israeli trade office in Doha that had been open for more than a decade was shuttered following Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
However, Qatar, which has bid for the Olympics and will host the World Cup in 2022, has been working to become a major player in the sports arena. And officials have said on numerous occasions that athletes from all countries are welcome to compete in the 2022 games.
Still, some segments of the population disagree with this approach.
With regards to this week’s tournament, the Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalization (QAYON) posted a letter to the president of the Qatar Swimming Association, urging the group to boycott Israel.
In an email to Doha News, QAYON member Esraa said, “It is great they removed the flag, but our demands were not limited to that.”
“Sports are a strong propaganda tool. Allowing Israeli athletes to participate in international sports in general, and in Qatar specifically, gives it a chance to whitewash its crimes. And while many might argue that we shouldn’t mix sports with politics, we would say Israel does that all the time.
Just last year it barred a paralyzed Palestinian athlete who lives in Gaza from attending an Olympic celebration in Jerusalem. Israel also bombed a stadium and killed 3 football players in its attack on Gaza in 2009. During its blockade on Gaza, footballs were among the items banned from entering the Strip. The examples of mixing sports and politics are many, and they are often committed by Israel.”
But this view does not appear to be shared by all Qataris.
On Twitter, Northwestern University in Qatar journalism student Alanood Al-Thani said:
@iloveqatar I don’t mind Israelis being here for sport but DON’T raise the flag. If you HAVE to then do it in the stadium.
— Alanood Al-Thani (@Al_Anood) October 21, 2013
Speaking to Doha News, Khalifa Saleh Al Haroon, founder of ILoveQatar.net, denounced Israeli aggression against Palestinians. But he added:
“Qatar is seen as a country of peace and dialogue. A country that tries to help bridge the gap between nations that otherwise wouldn’t even talk to each other…Now that people see a flag in an Olympic stadium they’ve suddenly become enraged with blind hate? What are people going to do when it’s World Cup time? It’s called the WORLD cup. You can’t reject a country from participating.
I’m just a normal Qatari, I’m not a politician or overly religious, I just have hope that people will open their eyes and see the big picture.”
Credit: Photo for illustrative purposes courtesy of Aspire on Facebook