Liam Morgan

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripping Malaysia of a major sporting event owing to the country's refusal to allow Israeli athletes to compete was unquestionably the right call.

The IPC was left with little alternative other than removing the hosting rights for the World Para Swimming World Championships - one of its flagship competitions outside of the Paralympic Games - from Malaysia given the nation's unwillingness to soften its anti-Israel stance.

Organisations within the Olympic Movement are often accused of taking the easy way out when it comes to sanctioning entire countries, instead preferring a policy of political appeasement.

It is not an allegation which can be levelled at the IPC in this instance. The governing body saw Malaysia was not going to budge and decided, rightly, to find a different host for the event.

In doing so, the IPC has in fact caused itself a headache, implementing a tight deadline to find an alternative venue for a competition which was expected to attract over 600 Para-swimmers.

IPC President Andrew Parsons claimed the organisation would make the same decision if another case arose ©Getty Images
IPC President Andrew Parsons claimed the organisation would make the same decision if another case arose ©Getty Images

The IPC has set a precedent should other cases of political discrimination arise in the world of Paralympic sport in the future, which is certainly not out of the question given the current climate, with President Andrew Parsons insisting the organisation would "take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries".

The decision may also pose additional challenges for National Paralympic Committees, many of whom are not exactly laden with cash. The late change of venue could feasibly cost money they simply do not have and the IPC has not yet confirmed whether or not they will be reimbursed for expenses already incurred, such as booking travel and accommodation.

But it was almost refreshing to see a governing body make a direct decision rather than stumbling its way through the process as countless others have done before.

It was also good to see a clear case of political discrimination, which has risen back to the surface in recent years after lingering ominously in the background, punished with appropriate and concrete action.

After all, Malaysia, and particularly its 93-year-old Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, were not exactly hiding their true feelings on this and there was no ambiguity in statements emanating from officials in the country in recent weeks.

Mohamad had stated there was "no place for Israeli athletes" and then proceeded to insist the country had a right to ban Israeli competitors amid pleas and appeals from the likes of the IPC and the Olympic Council of Malaysia (OCM) to let them participate.

In a speech before the Oxford University's debating chamber, Oxford Union, Mohamad provided one of my all-time favourite denials when he claimed it was "unfair" to label him as anti-Semitic despite publicly saying Jewish people were "hook-nosed" with "an instinctive sense of money", comments which comfortably fall into the anti-Semitic category.

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, left, has been at the centre of the controversy after refusing to allow Israel to compete at the World Para Swimming World Championships ©Getty Images
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, left, has been at the centre of the controversy after refusing to allow Israel to compete at the World Para Swimming World Championships ©Getty Images

Mohamad has since displayed the usual arrogance of a man in his position, claiming Malaysia can still host other events and the country was not that bothered by the decision taken by the IPC.

Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq has also sparked outrage with his defiant attitude. "If hosting an international sporting event is more important than standing up for our Palestinian brothers and sisters who get murdered, maimed and tortured by the Netanyahu regime, that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass," he said.

"We would like to kindly remind the IPC that even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the Netanyahu Government is an active perpetrator of war crimes."

Others have reacted in a far humbler manner, with officials from the Sarawak State Government, where the Championships were due to be held, expressing regret at losing the hosting rights.

The OCM are likely to be privately furious given the embarrassment the Government has caused to Malaysian sport by refusing to grant visas to competitors from Israel, a nation with which Malaysia does not have diplomatic relations.

Given the drive in recent months from sports bodies to finally do something about political discrimination, the Government's stance could also trigger an unsurprising reticence from International Federations (IFs) to hold major events in Malaysia, especially as the ban on Israelis has been extended to include sports and disciplines beyond Para-swimming.

It is interesting to consider whether IFs and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) would have made the same call as the IPC if they were faced with similar circumstances and there is evidence on both sides.

In 2015, Israel withdrew its windsurfers from the World Junior Championships after Malaysia initially denied them visas before granting them participation on the condition that the Israeli flag, anthem and symbols were banned.

World Sailing did release a statement decrying the "unacceptable conditions" faced by Israel but the event still went ahead as planned and no specific action was taken against Malaysia.

The Para Swimming World Championships are one of the IPC's flagship events outside of the Paralympic Games ©Getty Images
The Para Swimming World Championships are one of the IPC's flagship events outside of the Paralympic Games ©Getty Images

By contrast, the International Judo Federation suspended the prestigious Abu Dhabi Grand Slam last year over the treatment of Israeli athletes before it was reinstated after the United Arab Emirates, another country which does not share diplomatic relations with Israel, provided guarantees the nation would not be discriminated against.

Cases involving Kosovo were also rife in 2018. Kosovan karatekas were first barred from entering Serbia for the European Championships in Novi Sad before they were denied the chance to compete under their own flags and symbols at the World Championships in Spain in November.

The response from the IOC was to warn IFs not to award events to countries unless guarantees on such issues were provided beforehand. There was considerable push-back from the Spanish Government until they finally relented and promised it would not happen again, although they could feasibly be merely empty words.

The insistence from Malaysia regarding Israeli competitors is arguably stronger and it remains to be seen whether they would stick to their guns if an Olympic event or a World Championships in a higher-profile sport was heading for the Southeast Asian country.

That seems unlikely with Mohamad at the helm. Unless the Government changes its tune, Malaysia will remain a sporting pariah when it comes to staging major events, which is exactly what the nation deserves.

"Red Card" and the power of patient investigations

I have been enjoying reading the excellent "Red Card" book by American journalist Ken Bensinger, which provides a unique insight into how the FIFA corruption scandal unfolded through the eyes of law enforcement officials who helped bring charges against numerous members of the governing body's top brass.

The book documents how the likes of the Internal Revenue Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and others built a rock-solid case, leading to the arrests of seven officials in a dramatic dawn raid at the Baur Au Lac hotel in Zurich in May 2015.

What it also shows is the power of patience when it comes to criminal investigations which affect the world of sport.

There has been a clamour for expedience in ongoing probes into the alleged bribery schemes which helped Rio de Janeiro and Tokyo win the right to host the 2016 and 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games respectively, for example, with a prominent question being: "what is taking them so long?"

Those who are calling for quick action in these incidences could learn a lesson or two from the manner in which the American investigation into FIFA was carried out. 

Law enforcement meticulously planned out their case, right down to the last detail, to ensure they had enough evidence to first go public with the indictments and then secure convictions later down the line.