BBC Sport reports the outcome of a story it ignored last month

BBC Sport did not show much interest in the Judo World Championships which took place in Tokyo between August 25th and 31st. During that period of time visitors to the BBC Sport website’s Judo page saw just two reports (see here and here), both of which concerned a Scottish Judoka.  

However, on September 2nd a report on a five day-old story titled “Saeid Mollaei: Iranian judoka fears for safety after refusing to quit World Championships” was published on that page as well as on the BBC News website’s ‘Middle East’ page. Readers were told that:

“Iran’s Saeid Mollaei says he fears for his and his family’s safety after ignoring calls from Iranian authorities to pull out of the World Judo Championships in Japan.

Mollaei said he was told to withdraw from his match against Russia’s Olympic champion Khasan Khalmurzaev to avoid the prospect of facing Israel’s Sagi Muki later in the tournament.”

Only in the tenth paragraph were readers informed that “Muki later beat Casse to win the gold medal” but they heard nothing of an earlier incident involving an Egyptian competitor.

The BBC’s report gave a distinctly tepid portrayal of the pressures put on Mollaei. In addition to citing “calls from Iranian authorities to pull out”, the report told readers that Mollaei said:

“But the National Olympic Committee of Iran and the Sport Minister told me to not compete, that I had to comply with the law.”

Only those readers who bothered to click on a link to the International Judo Federation website would learn that considerably more underhand tactics were employed by the Iranian authorities.

“Mollaei’s next fight was against the Olympic champion, Russian Khasan Khalmurzaev. A few minutes prior to the contest, the Iranian coach received a call from his country. On the other side of the line, the Iranian first deputy minister of sport, Davar Zani, gave him the order to withdraw Mollaei from the competition to avoid a potential contest between Iran and Israel. A demand accompanied by a double threat against Mollaei and his family. […]

…a delegation from the Iranian Embassy came to the venue. One delegate illegally, by means of the Iranian coaches accreditation, trespassed into the athlete warm up area to approach him with messages of intimidation.

Just prior to the semi-final, Mollaei’s coach received another phone call, this time from the Iranian Olympic Committee President, Reza Salehi Amiri. He put the phone on speaker and video, so the World Champion could follow the conversation.

The NOC President explained that National Security were at his parent’s house. Mollaei’s friends from Iran also texted him that people came to his house and asked his father to tell his son to follow the law or he would have problems.”

Apparently the BBC did not consider that information newsworthy. Linking to the IJF website, the BBC Sport report went on:

“Earlier in 2019, the National Olympic Committee of Iran had said it would comply with the Olympic charter and statutes of the International Judo Federation (IJF), paving the way for Iranian athletes to compete against Israeli athletes.”

However, as noted here when the BBC ignored the story last month, a top Iranian sports official reneged on that commitment made in May.

“President of the Iran National Olympic Committee Syed Reza Salehi Amiri said that Iranian athletes will not compete against Israeli athletes, despite Iran claiming in a letter addressed to the International Judo Federation (IJF) that things might change.

The Judo World Championship will take place at the end of August, where the most anticipated encounter will be between Iranian Saeid Mollaei, who is ranked No. 1 in the 81 kg. weight group, and second ranked Israeli Sagi Muki. […]

“Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy – and for this reason, we are not competing with athletes of the Zionist regime,” Amiri said.”

Had the BBC covered that story at the time it may have been better placed to report on the predictable pressures put on Mollaei during the championship as well as subsequent events unmentioned in this report.  

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Discrimination in sport continues to be ignored by the BBC

Back in November 2017 BBC audiences were told that an Iranian wrestler had been instructed to lose a match because Iran “does not accept” and “does not recognise” Israel. As was noted here at the time, ‘Newshour’ presenter Tim Franks brought up an ‘interesting’ way of avoiding such situations which – notably – did not involve the Iranians giving up their bigoted approach.

“Franks: “And in terms of the Iranian sort of…trying to avoid this sort of thing in the future, have they ever tried to make appeals to the people who run world sport to avoid embarrassing clashes…?”

In February 2018 the BBC revisited that topic, again telling audiences that “Iran does not recognise the state of Israel” and that “[d]ozens of Iranian athletes have boycotted competitions against Israeli competitors since the 1979 Islamic Revolution”.

In none of those reports were BBC audiences told of the religious ideology behind that refusal to “accept” Israel.

The BBC has also shown no interest in informing its audiences of the efforts made by the International Judo Federation to fight discrimination in sport. Those efforts have included communication with Iran ahead of the Judo World Championship next month.

“The IJF said in a letter to Iran that: “The international judo community witnessed several times a disturbing phenomenon, which involves the sudden “injury” or failure of weigh-in of Iranian athletes… [because of] the possible obligation of the given athletes to compete against certain countries.”

In the same letter, the federation set a March 15 deadline for the Iranian government to present to “The International Judo Federation… a governmental letter which guarantees that all athletes from Iran will compete in IJF competitions, regardless of the nationality of the athletes they oppose, and that they will participate in the medal ceremonies, regardless of the nationality of those who share the podium with them.”

The Iranian response to the letter was published by the IJF in March 11, where it claimed that it would, “fully respect the Olympic Charter and its non-discrimination principle.” The Islamic republic also said that they were negotiating with parliament to “identify the proper legal resolutions.”

However, a top Iranian sports official now appears to have reneged on that commitment to non-discrimination.

“President of the Iran National Olympic Committee Syed Reza Salehi Amiri said that Iranian athletes will not compete against Israeli athletes, despite Iran claiming in a letter addressed to the International Judo Federation (IJF) that things might change.

The Judo World Championship will take place at the end of August, where the most anticipated encounter will be between Iranian Saeid Mollaei, who is ranked No. 1 in the 81 kg. weight group, and second ranked Israeli Sagi Muki. […]

“Refraining from participating in competitions with athletes of the Zionist regime is an issue of the Muslim world, and athletes from 20 countries refrain from doing so. I said that we are acting within the framework of the Iranian regime’s policy – and for this reason, we are not competing with athletes of the Zionist regime,” Amiri said.”

Once again there is no sign of that story on either the BBC Sport Judo page or the BBC News website ‘Middle East’ page.

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Sporting body’s anti-discrimination results get no BBC coverage

Readers may recall that in October 2017 the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

Similarly, the BBC Sport website did not report on efforts made earlier this year by the International Judo Federation to bring an end to such discrimination.

Due to those efforts, the Israeli judo team is taking part in this year’s Abu Dhabi Grand Slam under happily different conditions.

“Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Friday to accompany Israel’s national judo team at an international tournament where — for the first time in a Gulf country — they will be allowed to compete under their national flag.

Regev is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony for the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam 2018 on Saturday, where the Israeli national anthem will also be played for the team. […]

Regev is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE in an official capacity, as the countries have no official diplomatic relations.”

On October 28th (and again the next day) the Israeli national anthem was indeed heard in Abu Dhabi.

photo credit: IJF

“Israel’s national anthem was played at a judo tournament in Abu Dhabi on Sunday for the first time, after one of its athletes won gold.

A visibly moved Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was at the contest to support the Israeli team, presented the medals and hung the gold medallion around the neck of judoka Sagi Muki. […]

Muki beat Belgian competitor Matthias Casse to take first place in the under-81 kilogram category at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam.

Following the medal distribution, the tournament presenter announced, in English, “Ladies and gentleman, please rise for the national anthem of Israel” after which the “Hatikva” melody began playing. […]

It was…the first time an Israeli delegation participated there under its national flag, after the International Judo Federation warned UAE organizers the competition would be canceled unless all athletes were allowed to participate on an equal footing.”

Once again, however, no coverage of that story was to be found on the BBC Sport website home page or Judo page (even though a report about British competitors in the same tournament did appear) or on the BBC News website’s Middle East page.

BBC Sport website Judo page, 29/10/18

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Readers may recall that last October the Israeli delegation to a judo competition held in Abu Dhabi was barred by the organisers from displaying the Israeli flag, competing under the name ‘Israel’ or playing the national anthem. However, as was noted here at the time:

“The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.”

The International Judo Federation subsequently took steps to end such discrimination.

“Based on experiences from previous years and in an attempt to take a firm and constructive stance in the fight against discrimination in sport, the International Judo Federation announces that it will suspend two of its events, namely the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix.

Prior to this decision and after carefully analysing the past situations involving the denial of participation in equal conditions of all IJF member federations – with their national insignia and anthem at the aforementioned events, and after repeated past interventions, the IJF officially requested the two organisers to provide a letter of guarantee signed by the government that all IJF member nations would have the right to participate in their events in equal conditions. […]

As no positive answer was received to date, although past the given deadline, the International Judo Federation’s Executive Committee decided to suspend both the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam and the Tunis Grand Prix until governmental guarantee is given to ensure free and equal participation of all nations at the said events.”

That story has been reported by a number of Israeli media organisations as well as by CNN and the BBC associate news agency AFP. Visitors to the BBC Sport website, however, found no mention of the IJF’s decision either on the main homepage or on the ‘Judo’ page and no mention of the story is found on the BBC News website’s Tunisia and UAE pages.

 

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BBC News and BBC Sport ignore Judo tournament anti-Israel bigotry

A major Judo tournament organised by the International Judo Federation is taking place in Abu Dhabi between October 26th and 28th.

However – and not for the first time – members of the Israeli team taking part in that tournament have been barred from displaying the Israeli flag.

“The blue-and-white delegation to the final Grand Slam competition of the year is set to include 12 athletes, but Israel Judo Association chairman Moshe Ponte was informed by the organizers that they won’t be able to have the Israel flag on their judo uniform, as they do in every other event across the world. Instead of having ISR (Israel) by their names on the scoreboard and on their backs, they will have to take part in the contest as representatives of the IJF (International Judo Federation). The national anthem will also not be played, should an Israeli win a gold medal.”

And on the competition’s first day that is exactly what happened.

“An Israeli judoka won a gold medal on Thursday at the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam judo tournament, but had to sing his own private “Hatikvah” because the organizers refused to play the Israeli national anthem.

He also had to celebrate his victory under the International Judo Federation’s flag, because the emirate banned the display of Israeli symbols.

Tournament organizers did not play Israel’s national anthem as Tal Flicker stood on the podium after receiving his medal in the men’s under-66 kilograms (145 pounds) category.

With the medal around his neck, Flicker sang his own “Hatikvah” while the International Judo Federation’s (IJF) anthem played in the background.”

The BBC Sport website (which usually displays an interest in reporting bigotry and discrimination in sport) has no coverage of that story either on its home page or on its Judo page. The BBC News website’s Middle East page similarly did not find this story of blatant discrimination in sport newsworthy.

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A sports story which did not interest the BBC

Whilst the BBC News website’s Sport section (along with BBC television news and BBC World Service radio) has recently invested energies in the context-free promotion of Jibril Rajoub’s latest exploitation of sport for the political delegitimisation of Israel, no coverage of another recent Israel-related sports story has been seen on its pages.No news

The Israeli delegation to the World Masters Judo competition held in Rabat on May 23rd and 24th was unnecessarily detained upon arrival in Morocco.

“The members of the Israeli delegation were held up at the airport for more than eight hours, in a large room with no chairs, food or water. […]

Only after the International Judo Federation chairman threatened to call off the entire competition, the Israeli delegation members were allowed into the country, and were escorted to their hotel by the king’s security unit.

 On the first day of the competition, the Israeli judokas experienced hostility again, and the Israeli flag was nowhere to be seen. In response, a representative of the International Judo Federation demanded that all the flags of the participating countries be removed.”

In addition:

“The Israeli team was also not mentioned on the tournament’s website. The spectators waved Palestinian flags, shouted “We’re going to kill you,” and booed each time a member of the Israeli team appeared.”

No report on those events appears on the BBC’s dedicated Judo page or elsewhere in the sports section of the BBC News website and neither was it covered on the website’s Africa or Middle East pages.