The 2016 Rio Olympics motto is “A New World,” intended to convey sports’ transformational power, promote respect and unity, break down barriers and “create a better world,” explained Olympic Brand Director Beth Lula. “It is what the Olympic movement is all about,” echoes Thomas Bach, current president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
When it comes to the Lebanese, Palestinian, Saudi and Egyptian delegations, something is lost in translation.
It seems the 10-member Lebanese team physically prevented the Israeli delegation from boarding the bus to Maracana Stadium for the opening ceremony – the bus they were assigned to share. The IOC acquiesced to the Lebanese and provided a different bus to transport the Israelis. Israeli Olympian sailor Udi Gal posted on Facebook, “Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represent?” Not according to the Lebanese government, which praised its delegation’s behavior as “principled and patriotic.” The Arab press explained that “the Israelis were sent away from the bus because normalization (with Israel) is not to be had in any form.”
Palestinian swimmer Mary al-Atrash complained to the press that she couldn’t prepare for the Games due to the “Israeli occupation.” She insisted there’s no Olympic-size swimming pool available to her and she was forced to practice in a half-length pool. “Because of all the difficulties that Palestinians live under… it makes it harder to practice and compete in our sports,” said al-Atrash.
Her claim of being uniquely disadvantaged as a Palestinian because of the conflict with Israel holds no water. It’s not uncommon for Olympic swimmers, including in the U.S., to train in half-size (25m) pools like the one al-Atrash used in her hometown. A 50m Olympic pool is available in Gaza and Israel said it would have approved her practicing in Jerusalem. She never asked. The Palestinian Olympics Committee told the Jerusalem Post that it’s breaking ground for a 50m pool in the near future.