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

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.”

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

Updated 20 October 2020

Guardiola under pressure as City chase elusive crown

  • Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League

LONDON: Pep Guardiola starts his latest bid to lead Manchester City to Champions League glory with the shadows of past failures casting doubt on his ability to secure that elusive title.

City host Porto in their opening Champions League group match on Wednesday with Guardiola's failing in the tournament weighing heavily on both the Spanish boss and his club.

Despite all their domestic success in recent years, City have never gone beyond the semifinals of the Champions League and Guardiola has found the competition equally vexing for much of the last decade.

Since he won the Champions League as Barcelona boss for the second time in 2011, Guardiola has failed to return to the final of Europe's elite club competition.

That nine-year drought includes four years of frustration since he took charge at City in 2016.

In that time, Guardiola has seen City beaten by Monaco in the last 16 and Liverpool, Tottenham and Lyon in the quarterfinals.

He also lost in three semifinals during his time as Bayern Munich manager before moving to City.

Last season's shock 3-1 defeat against Lyon in Lisbon was especially galling as City were heavy favorites against the French side.

Guardiola deserved a large portion of the blame for that letdown after his tactical tinkering appeared to unsettle his players and did nothing to tilt the tie in City's favor.

Interpreted by Guardiola's critics as further proof that his Champions League success at Barcelona was due to the presence of the great Lionel Messi's presence, the only bright side of the Lyon loss was that it was not their farewell to Europe for a while.

For several months last season, it appeared City would not even be competing in the Champions League this term after UEFA gave them a two-year ban from European competitions for Financial Fairplay breaches.

City's legal dream team won that battle and the suspension was eventually thrown out on appeal.

Whether Guardiola can be as successful in Europe as City's Abu Dhabi-based owners were in the court room remains far from certain.

Adding to the unease around City ahead of their European campaign is the unresolved issue of Guardiola's future.

Guardiola is out of contract at the end of the season and has yet to agree on a new deal amid speculation that he may decide to leave the Etihad Stadium in 2021.

For now, Guardiola will focus on Porto's visit to Manchester rather than entertaining questions about his long-term plans.

The 49-year-old insists he has to earn a prolonged stay at City by improving on last season's disappointment, which saw them surrender the Premier League to Liverpool and win only the League Cup.

There have been some worrying signs already as Leicester thrashed City 5-2, while Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal was far from convincing.

Significantly, Guardiola was able to welcome back Sergio Aguero last weekend as City's record goalscorer made his first appearance for four months after knee surgery.

City have lacked a cutting edge in Aguero's absence and Guardiola's hopes of a serious Champions League challenge hinge on the Argentine striker staying fit.

"The important thing is that Sergio comes back in good physical condition, starts to get his rhythm, doesn't get more injuries and plays good," Guardiola said.

"We know what he means for us, we know how we appreciate him, but now he has to show like every one of us, me first, that we deserve to continue here and playing good and winning games."