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Rio 2016: Lebanese Olympians refuse to travel on same bus as Israeli team

The incident allegedly happened as the teams were waiting to travel to the Olympic opening ceremony in the Maracana Stadium

Alexandra Sims
Monday 08 August 2016 00:24
The Olympic flag is carried before being raised during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeir
The Olympic flag is carried before being raised during the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeir

The Lebanese Olympic team refused to ride on a bus with Israeli athletes travelling to the Games’ opening ceremony in Rio, according to members of both teams.

The Lebanese team were allegedly sat on a bus waiting to set off for the Maracana Stadium on Friday evening, when the Israeli team arrived and also attempted to board the vehicle.

“The Israeli athletes insisted on getting on,” the head of the Lebanese team, Salim al-Haj Nicolas, told AFP.

Udi Gal, a member of Israel’s Olympic sailing team, recounted the incident on Facebook.

He said: "We insisted on boarding the bus, saying that if the Lebanese refused to stay with us, they could take another bus.”

Gal said organisers intervened and the two teams travelled to the event in separate vehicles to “prevent an international and physical incident”.

The Olympic organising committee has not yet issued a statement about the incident.

Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations. It is a decade since Israel was involved in a month-long war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The 2006 conflict killed an estimated 1,200 Lebanese, including hundreds of civilians, and around 160 Israelis, most of whom were soldiers.

On Saturday, both teams said that Israeli athletes had been blocked from the bus.

Haj Nicolas has said he had the right to prevent another team’s athletes from using transport that was purportedly reserved for them.

“I asked the bus driver to close the door but the guide with the Israeli team prevented him from doing so,” he told Lebanese newspaper An-nahar.

“I stood at the door of the bus to prevent the Israel team from entering and some of them tried to go in and pick a fight .”

He later added that the incident was “only a small problem” that is now “finished”. “We are here only for sports,” he added.

Gili Lusting, head of the Israeli delegation, told the Associated Press in a statement: "The organizing committee saw the blunt behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation and immediately arranged a different bus for us.

"The behaviour of the head of the Lebanese delegation contradicts the Olympic Charter."

Gal later told Israel’s Channel 2 television: “We wanted to stand up for ourselves but you can’t cause trouble.”

This is not the first time hostility has been reported between Lebanese and Israeli athletes during the Olympics.

During the London 2012 Olympics, the Telegraph reported that then Lebanon judo team refused to train alongside the Israeli team, allegedly demanding that a screen be erected so they would not be able to see each other.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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