It’s always fascinating to see how world politics trickle down to the playing fields of sports around the world. This year at the 2009 fencing world championships several Iranian athletes had to be disqualified before they ever had a chance to compete. Hours of training, hard work and dreams of victory were washed away.
This happened because these Iranian athletes were placed into seeding brackets with Israeli athletes and they are forbidden to compete against them by their government. If they defy this order, they face potential imprisonment. What would you do if you were in their shoes?
One of the thing that’s so powerful about the Olympics and sports is its ability to transcend prejudices, break down barriers and build understanding between people of different races and countries. Unfortunately, many people live in fear of those barriers coming down and they work actively to see that those understandings won’t be reached.
Imagine if the US government had threatened white baseball players with imprisonment if they played against Jackie Robinson? Would the color barrier still exist? Would Branch Rickey have signed him if he knew he’d face jail time for doing so? How much longer would it have taken for the barrier to come down?
I’ve been to Iran twice and have found the people to be welcoming, kind and similar to people I’ve encountered all over the world: they care about their families, pursing their dreams and being happy so this is certainly not meant as a criticism of the people of Iran.
Just food for thought on how far we still need to go in this world to reach equality and justice. And, an appreciation that I am free to compete against anyone without fear of imprisonment.