UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

World Masters Athletics reviews complaint about Lebanese athlete’s withdrawal from race to avoid competing against Israeli

The legal department of World Masters Athletics (WMA) is reviewing a complaint by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) regarding the conduct of a Lebanese athlete at a recent World Athletics Masters Indoor Championships.

Mr Mazen Chreim withdrew from the semi-finals of the 200m competition in Toruń, Poland, because he was scheduled to compete against an Israeli athlete. He was very clear in his reason for withdrawing – he announced it on Facebook.

According to media reports, he stated that he had withdrawn after consulting the Lebanese Athletics Federation, and that his inspiration came from Hezbollah leader Sheikh Ragheb Harb. He said that he will not compete against Israeli athletes.

Mr Chreim continued to compete in other events and was placed 4th in the 400m finals, which led to the Lebanese Athletics Federation proclaiming on Instagram “proud of you champ”. The organisers, clearly aware of Mr Chreim using his withdrawal to advance his political views, merely expressed “disappointment” and said politics should not be a factor .

Mr Chreim was praised for withdrawing and not competing against an Israeli by the leadership of another designated terrorist organisation, Hamas. Abdul Salam Haneyya, Assistant Secretary-General of the Supreme Council for Youth and Sports in Gaza, hailed Lebanese runner Mazen Chreim for refusing to compete with an Israeli runner in an international race competition in Poland, according to Palestinian media.

Sam Green, who prepared the complaint on behalf of UKLFI, said: “WMA is in the uncomfortable position of having its event used as a platform for the cause of a designated terrorist organisation. The organisers of the competition did not stand up to that challenge and it is now up to WMA to show that it will not allow its events to be hijacked for illegitimate purposes and that athletes will not be permitted to choose opponents based on their own views on ‘acceptability’.”

UKLFI pointed out to WMA various breaches of its rules that had occurred as a result of this incident. The core principles of the WMA Constitution include:

“(iii)  to safeguard, act in the interests of, and maintain the reputation and integrity of masters athletics”

UKLFI commented that failure to act in this case, beyond the organisers expressing “disappointment” would allow a frontal assault on the principles of WMA. It would be entirely contrary to masters athletics interests, tarnish WMA’s reputation, and undermine its integrity.

“(iv) to foster a supportive and non-discriminatory environment for athletes, officials, support staff and administrators involved in masters athletics throughout the world, regardless of age, gender, sexual preference, race, religious, political or other orientation or ability”

UKLFI observed that Mr Chreim’s action, and similar actions, are isolating and discriminatory. He has made it clear he will not compete against Israeli athletes, ever. This is a direct challenge to WMA.

“(vii) to foster friendly and cooperative masters athletics competition at the national level and between Members at the Regional level”

UKLFI pointed out to WMA that friendly and cooperative competition cannot be fostered if athletes can pick and choose who they compete against for their own reasons and use events to broadcast their own causes, and incite others to emulate them.

UKLFI also pointed out Mr Chreim’s action breached many parts of the World Athletics’ Integrity Code, including standards of integrity, proper conduct, equality and dignity.   .

Withdrawing from events which include Israelis is an established tactic used by those who wish to isolate Israel. But there have, fortunately, been numerous occasions where this concerted discriminatory, prejudicial, and unsporting action has been thwarted or penalised, often following intervention by UKLFI.

Last month, FIFA barred Indonesia from hosting the U-20 football World Cup because Indonesia would not permit an Israeli team to attend.

In November 2021, the World Squash Federation cancelled its Men’s World Team Championships in Malaysia, when Malaysia confirmed Israeli athletes would not be allowed to attend.

In October 2018 Saudi badminton players and their coach were suspended for 6 months after the Saudi player refused to play against an Israeli.