Israeli youth handball teams in Qatar spark social media outcry
Israeli youth handball teams in Qatar spark social media outcry
Israel sent a boys' team and a girls' team to the Handball World School Championship, a biannual international tournament for students aged 15 to 18, played since the early 1970s.
It is not the first time Israeli athletes have competed in Qatar, but on Twitter, users claiming to be Qataris accused Doha of trying to normalise relations with Israel.
"I ask all parents to withdraw their children and prevent them from participating in this normalisation of relations," one user wrote in Arabic.
"Now it is the time to speak to your children about Palestine."
Another tweeted that the tournament was "recognition of an occupier".
The Twitter account QAYON (Qatar Youth Opposed to Normalisation) for its part launched the hashtag: "Students of Qatar against normalisation", gaining coverage from Doha's own Al-Jazeera Arabic satellite network.
It is not known whether the tweets critical of Doha actually originated from Qatar.
The presence of the Israeli handball players was always likely to be sensitive.
Earlier this year Israeli tennis player Dudi Sela took part in the Qatar Open, leading to demands on social media for an apology from Qatar's tennis federation, whose president is Paris Saint-Germain chief Nasser Al-Khelaifi.
And in 2016, two Israeli competitors - Ariel Hilma and Sean Faiga - took part in a Doha volleyball tournament. Again, there was online fury, with one Twitter user calling on Qatari airport staff not to stamp the volleyball stars' passports.
Ahead of the handball competition, one local newspaper listed every country participating, except for Israel.
The opening ceremony on Thursday will not feature an Israeli flag, according to the International School Sport Federation (ISF) organisers.
But there is no question of Israel not participating among the more than 20 nations who sent teams to Doha - the first non-European capital to host the tournament.
"These teams have qualified to participate," said a media manager for the competition, pointing out that the same rule will apply when it comes to the World Cup, which Qatar is scheduled to host in 2022.
"This is a worldwide tournament," he said.
Tom Christensen, a senior ISF official, told AFP that Israel was originally planning to send only one team, "but they decided four or five months ago to send a girls' team" as well.
Qatar has a complex relationship with Israel. The emirate provides sanctuary for the former Hamas leadership.
In the weeks following the start of the crisis between Qatar and its Arab neighbours, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he wanted Al-Jazeera's Israel offices closed down.
At the same time, Qatar has committed itself to welcoming Israel's football team - and fans - should they qualify for the 2022 World Cup.
The Qatari leadership has to tread a fine line with its approach to Israel, said Christopher Davidson, a professor in Middle East politics at Durham University.
"The bulk of (public) opinion among Arab nationals is very different to Israel than their political elites," he said.
"For them, to find out about Israeli sports teams coming is very, very difficult."
But Qatar has another imperative: it cannot exclude any country from a sporting event with 2022 looming and the world watching.
Davidson said Qatar has little option.
"They have run the risk that countries like Israel may well turn up and there's not much they can do about it, other than forfeit the right to host.”
Felipe Massa ready for Formula E challenge around the streets of Riyadh
- Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut
- Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation”
Noor Nugali Riyadh: Felipe Massa cannot wait to get behind the wheel of a Formula E car and jumpstart his new career when the spectacle of speed storms into Riyadh for the season opener on Dec. 15.
The Saudi Arabia capital was named as the newest stopping point for the sport in May, with it being the first race of a 13-race season, which sees the electric-powered cars tackle street circuits across the globe.
Not only will the December date mark the Kingdom’s entry into Formula E, but it will also mark Massa’s debut, having left the Formula One paddock for the growing sport. And the 37-year-old told Arab News he is excited about the prospect of tackling the streets of Ad Diriyah, the oldest part of the capital, in one of the electrically powered speed machines.
“I am ready for the race. It’s a fantastic feeling driving around the city, the town, it’s historical. It will be a big event,” Massa said at press conference to announce Saudi Arabian Airlines’ new long-term partnership as official airline partner of the all-electric series.
“I’m really happy to be a part of this new challenge for my career. In a new place and country, it’s motivating.”
Having won 11 Grands Prix during an illustrious career in F1, during which time he raced for Ferrari, some might think Massa would not be daunted by the move to Formula E. The Brazilian, however, is taking nothing for granted.
“It’s a big challenge for me to change categories, to Formula E,” he said, having got a chance to put some early practice in as he took a Gen2 car around the streets of the capital.
“Learning everything is a challenge. It’s different cars, different tracks and a different way of driving. I need to learn and grow to understand but I like new challenges.”
Massa called the Formula E vehicles “the car of the next generation” and it is hoped that the Ad Diriyah race helps the changing face of Saudi Arabia by inspiring more women to get behind the wheel in the Kingdom — something not lost on Massa.
“I heard that women are driving (in Saudi Arabia) now and that’s fantastic — hopefully in the future there will female racers,” he said.
“We are racing in a country (whose main export is oil), and we are racing with electric cars. I think it shows that this country wants to change its mentality and its thinking of the future. It’s really positive and I’m so happy to be a part of this.”
Thanks to the Bahrain and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the Middle East has long been associated with motorsport, and it is well known that the region is awash with petrolheads. The Riyadh Formula E race, however, will be international motorsport’s first move into Saudi Arabia.
But rather than look to bring F1 to the country his Abdul Aziz Bin Turki Al-Faisal, vice-chair of the General Sports Authority, revealed that Formula E was the only format they wanted to see in the capital.
“This is a truly game-changing moment for Saudi Arabia and one that we can share with the world,” he said. “It is very fitting that the such a futuristic and sustainable sport as Formula E is pointing to the future direction of our country.
“Saudi Arabia is home to literally millions of passionate young fans of motorsport, many of whom simply cannot believe that Felipe Massa took the Gen2 car around the streets of the capital today and that they now have a ‘home race’ on the Formula E calendar. So already the excitement is building, especially since we’re adding live music concerts to the weekend line-up.”
The track Massa and Co. will be tackling this December was revealed at the press conference. At 1.76 miles long, the first road circuit in the Middle East features 21 corners, a number of which are long flowing ones taken at high speed. It is hoped that the race will get both Saudi Arabia’s entry to the sport and the season itself off to a spectacular start, and in doing so inspire a new generation of speed demons.
Prince Khalid bin Sultan Al-Faisal Al-Saud, president of the Saudi Arabian Motor Federation, said: “Something we haven’t announced yet, is that there will be a support race for Formula E.
“It’s the Jaguar I-Pace trophy, it will race around the world with the Formula E circuit.
“Saudi Arabia will participate in that championship as a national team with two Saudi Arabian drivers and we will announce the names soon.”