A Lone Voice in the Sports World Asks: “What About Palestine?”


Ali Farag of Egypt competes against James Willstrop of England during day three of the PSA Dubai World Series Finals on June 8, 2017. (Photo by Francois Nel / Getty Images for Falcon) Subscribe to The Nation Subscribe now for as little as $2 a month! Thank you for signing […]

Ali Farag is currently the number-two-ranked squash player in the world. Farag, who hails from Egypt, is also a Harvard grad and was arguably the greatest college squash player in US history, losing just twice in three years while leading Harvard to an unlikely national championship in 2014. In other words, he is a big deal in a corner of the sports landscape to which most people in the United States pay little attention. But in Egypt, which has the second-most squash courts of any country, and in Europe he is a star. Farag used his platform to do something as daring and perhaps as dangerous as the game he has mastered. He is pointing out the baldfaced hypocrisy of the sports world’s sanctioning Russia while giving other nations, especially Israel, a pass for their own military aggression.

Almost overnight the sports world moved to ban Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. In a matter of days, the IOC, FIFA, and a host of federations have suspended Russian athletes and banned Russian teams. They are making political statements that the war has disqualified Russia from international competition. It was all quite puzzling. The rapidity by which they acted seems to fly in the face of their “no politics in sports” mantra, which was used as recently as the 2020 Olympics to punish athletes who used the platform to speak out. Their robust response also highlights the double standard they apply in responding to one injustice while ignoring a host of others. This is especially evident when we compare and contrast the response to Ukraine with the silence of the sports power brokers to the enduring Israeli occupation in Palestine.

People in the sports world, suffice it to say, have not exactly tripped over themselves to point this out. That is, except for Ali Farag. After winning the esteemed Optasia Championship at Wimbledon, Farag said the following: “No one should accept any killings in the world, or oppression, but we’ve never been allowed to speak about politics in sports, but all of a sudden now it’s allowed. And now that it’s allowed I hope that people also look at oppression everywhere in the world. The Palestinians have been going through that for the past 74 years, but I guess because it doesn’t fit the narrative of the media of the West, we couldn’t talk about it. So now we can talk about Ukraine, we can talk about Palestine.”

The significance of his stance and his words were immediately seen by Institute for Middle East Understanding Executive Director Margaret DeReus, who told The Nation: “There is resounding significance when athletes use their platforms to call out the blatant double standards when it comes to the rapid response from a number of international sports organizations for Ukraine compared to other parts of the world, such as Palestine or communities of color in the US, who for so long, have been told to ‘keep politics out of sports’ or are punished when they use their platform to draw attention to injustice. But the crisis in Ukraine and the heartbreaking images we are seeing of the devastation there have awoken people’s consciousness around the world to understand that no arena is above the urgent need to protect humanity from aggression. Now is the time to answer the urgent demands of the oppressed and suspend Israel from sports leagues around the world until Palestinians live as free and equal human beings.”

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