Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Philadelphia Bulletin: Turkey, Austria Fail to Play Israeli Anthem at Sporting Events

by David Bedein

Jerusalem - Moments after her moving victory in the world junior chess championship, Marcel Efroimsky of Kfar Saba, Israel, stood proudly at the podium as the new world champion. She grasped her silver cup, stole another glance at the gold medal around her neck, and expected the Israeli national anthem to be played in the background, as is customary in every competition. But silence filled the air. An irksome silence.

Ms. Efroimsky, 14, comes from a dynasty of chess masters. She began playing at the age of 6 and at 9 competed in her first world championship. Her dream came true when she won the first place in the world championship for players ages 14 and under, which was held in Turkey, but was very disappointed when the Israeli national anthem, “Hatikva,” was not played, as the winning country’s national anthem customarily is.

“This is simply a scandal,” fumed Shai Efroimsky, the new champion’s father. “How dare they mix politics with sports? The rules explicitly say that the national anthem is to be played. And that was the case two years ago as well, when she won the championship for girls up to the age of 12 that was held in the same location in Turkey.”

Indeed, two years ago Ms. Efroimsky won the championship for girls aged 12 and under, held in Turkey, and she became the first Israeli girl to do so. At that time, before relations between Ankara and Jerusalem had deteriorated, the Israeli national anthem was played.

But, this time the competition ended in a very different way. The medals were handed out, the trophy was presented to Ms. Efroimsky and, after the speeches, the organizers suddenly decided not to play the national anthems of the countries from which the award-winners hailed. The exception was the Russian national anthem, after Russia won the largest number of awards in the various competitions that were held. This is the second incident in the space of a week in which Israel’s national anthem was not played despite the fact that an Israeli won first place.

The organizers claimed in their defense that they had been forced to shorten the ceremony and that was the reason why the national anthems were not played, but officials involved in the competition said they suspected that the Turks’ intentions had been clear-to refrain from playing the Israeli national anthem. “I suspect that this was a specific move against Israel,” said Mr. Efroimsky.

In the wake of the incident last night, Aviv Bushinsky, the chairman of the Israeli Chess Association, sent a telegram to the president of the World Chess Federation with a request that he investigate the incident. Mr. Bushinsky wrote that steps ought to be taken against the Turks if it should become evident that the decision to refrain from playing the national anthem was deliberate.

Hatikva Not Played At Fencing Championship

Precisely one week ago Daria Sterlinkov, of Israel, won the gold medal in a prestigious fencing competition in Austria, while Alona Komorov won the bronze medal. However, in this case, too, the Israeli national anthem was not played upon the conclusion of the ceremony at which the awards were handed out.

The Israeli team coach, Yaakov Federman, said that the person responsible for playing the national anthems told him they were unable to find the Israeli national anthem.

“So, we decided to take the initiative and all the members of the delegation, 22 in number, sang Hatikva ourselves,” said Mr. Federman, who added that this was not the first time that an incident of this sort has happened. “Five months ago in Sweden we had the same story,” he said.

Yesterday, a moving ceremony was held at the Ort Maalot school in honor of the pupils Ms. Sterlinkov and Ms. Komorov, and in honor of the teacher at the school, Yaakov Federman, their professional coach. “We decided not to be silent over the Austrian decision to ignore playing the national anthem of the first place winner and that is why we held a ceremony at the school, in the course of which the Israeli national anthem was played proudly,” said the school’s principal, Avi Manshes.

“The Austrian ambassador was also invited to the ceremony, but he did not attend and sent a letter of apology about what happened in Austria as well.” The ceremony was conducted with the blessing of Dr. Orna Simhon, the director of the Israel Education Ministry’s northern district

View the original article in the Philadelphia Bulletin

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