One summer many years ago, I was employed at White City Tennis Centre, driving players to and from matches and practice sessions.
As players came from many countries and ethnicities, there was a celebration of talent, skill and diversity, with no hint of tension – racial or religious.
Fast forward to Melbourne in the summer of 09/10 and ugly scenes of thugs who came to the Australian Open with the aim of poisoning the atmosphere of goodwill.
On the opening day, a group of men claiming to be Croatian nationalists reportedly intimidated spectators, sought to disrupt games by setting off flares and attacked those who sought to document their behaviour on camera, leading the Herald Sun to editorialise that they “brought shame on Melbourne.”
I am not entirely sure that the actions brought shame on Melbourne, but they certainly brought shame on the thugs and created or perpetuated negative stereotypes of Croatians.
The second group of egomaniacs who sought to use the sporting spectacle to make spectacles of themselves were representative of the minuscule, self-titled Australians for Palestine.
Earlier in the year, a handful of New Zealanders put their ignorance of Israel and disregard for others on display by attempting to disrupt tennis matches involving Israeli Shahar Peer (see p. 9).
With blindness to history, politics and morality evident in their anti-Israel sloganeering, they were apparently also oblivious to the universally negative reaction to their bullying attempts to upset the young athlete.
The Australian think-alikes distributed curricula vitae of their spokespersons, looking suspiciously like job applications, with anti-Israel disinformation, while urging Australians to exploit the Open as an opportunity to join the defamation of all Israelis.
The protesters gained advance publicity on one Melbourne radio station, where the host reminded the protest spokesperson that apologists for Hamas and the PLO are “in no position to preach to anyone on human rights”, and in a puff piece in The Age.
While the players strove to do their best on the tennis courts, the protesters put their anti-Israeli fanaticism on display in the court of public opinion – and lost.
The behaviour of a group of ego-driven ideologues was of interest mainly for what it revealed about the self-nominated champions of the anti-Israel cause in Australia, but contemporaneous events surrounding another sporting event were of far greater international significance.
The Islamic Solidarity Games of 2009, postponed once, has now been cancelled.
The key issue, which no superficial references to “Solidarity” could resolve, was the fact that Iran insisted on referring to a particular body of water as the Persian Gulf while Saudi Arabia and a number of other states insisted it be called the Arabian Gulf.
Even in “normal” times the Arab states would have had difficulty in having athletes representing them rewarded with medals bearing the Iranians’ inscription, and these are far from normal times. If the regional media is any indication, the confrontation between Iranian ambitions and the Islamic Middle East status quo is escalating rapidly.
In a combative piece, Galal Nasser in al-Ahram wrote, “It took three wars in the Gulf for the Arabs to start recognising the true face of the Iranian regime, a regime that mainly wants to restore the glory of the Persian empire, a regime that talks religion but is trying to grab the land of its neighbours . . . Iran speaks about Palestine and Jerusalem while its eyes are set on Iraq, Bahrain, the UAE and the Arab Gulf”.
The anti-Israel protesters in Melbourne may or may not have been aware that one of the countries named above, the UAE, received widespread condemnation last year when it refused to grant a visa to Shahar Peer to compete in a tournament in Dubai.
Yet at the same time the tennis player was subject to harassment in Melbourne, the first ever minister of an Israeli government was in UAE, for an international conference on renewable energy.
The irony of the “Friends of Palestine” recycling hatred while Minister Uzi Landau was in the UAE was palpable.