Israeli youth handball teams in Qatar spark social media outcry

In this file photo, Nikola Karabatic (L) of France is challenged by Zarko Markovic of Qatar during their final match of the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship in Doha. (Reuters)
Updated 22 February 2018
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Israeli youth handball teams in Qatar spark social media outcry

Doha: The presence of Israeli teams at a youth handball tournament in Doha, starting Thursday, has sparked calls on social media for Qataris to withdraw their children from the competition.
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.”


‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

Updated 15 December 2018
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‘Not impossible’ that Formula E will overtake F1, says Felipe Massa ahead of Ad Diriyah race

LONDON: Felipe Massa has acknowledged the possibility of Formula E becoming more popular than its more illustrious rival Formula One, ahead of his debut at the Ad Diriyah E-Prix in Saudi Arabia today.
The Brazilian ace swapped the roaring engines of F1 for the blistering battery power of Formula E this season, and told Arab News that the idea was not “impossible.”
“On overtaking, Formula 1, that’s a difficult question to answer. But what can I say, is that it’s not impossible. We just need to wait and see how things go, (whether) it is ‘when’ or ‘if,’ but it’s definitely not impossible,” he said.
“Formula E and electric cars are becoming ever-more present, but it will definitely be the future, even in the short-term future.
“It (the technology) has already arrived in some countries and will in other countries, too, it is the future. I think Formula E has used that mentality, even five years ago to build this (motorsport) category,” he added.
Massa, who raced for 15 seasons in Formula One and won 11 grands prix, was also positive about the potential of Formula E as it continues to expand after its inception in 2011 and inaugural season in 2014.
“It will take a little bit of time, it’s not easy to get things perfect straight away, but look at the past two years and how much the championship is growing.
“When I say growing, it’s not just with the quality of the drivers, but also with manufacturers’ teams and companies, who are really getting behind the sport.
“Look how many companies they are signing on as sponsors, on many different levels, even companies that sell fuel,” he said.
“We are even racing (this weekend) in a country known as an oil country. So, I think this shows how much this championship is growing.”
Massa also agreed with comments made by F1 director Ross Brawn, who recently said that the highest level of motorsport had become too predictable.
“Only certain racers can win in Formula One, but Formula E is unpredictable and a good example (of that) is that the winners in all past seasons have been different drivers,” he told Arab News.
The affable driver said he is relishing the new challenge that Formula E will pose to his skills and abilities, adding that with the exception of certain parts of the Monaco and Mexico circuits, each track will be new to him.
“I like a challenge, there is a lot to learn and a lot to test myself with and learning the car, working with the team,” he said.
“Even though I’m experienced in motorsport, with my 16 years in Formula One, this is a new test and I will have to start from zero.”
Meanwhile, defending Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne said hearing the words “world champion” after his name was “still cool.”
When asked about the challenge from teammate Andre Lotterer on the other side of the Techeetah garage, the Frenchman was full of praise for the German driver.
“He is absolutely one of the most talented drivers, and I expect him to be on the same level as I am and, for sure, it’s going to be a nice competition between us.
“It will be good for the team, as that will push everybody, and that is what we want as a team.”
The former F1 driver was complimentary about Formula E’s new “attack mode,” but voiced concerns about the danger the system posed to drivers on corners on the challenging Ad Diriyah circuit this weekend.