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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Tiberias Marathon winner stripped of Bahraini citizenship

Once upon a time, back in the late 80's and early 90's, yours truly ran marathons. A marathon isn't just a race, it's a running race that lasts 26 miles and 385 yards (42 kilometers for you metric people out there). It's grueling. Most people do not try to run them more than twice a year. Top runners run 100 miles a week and more to train for the marathon. I was an amateur. I never ran more than about 40 miles a week, and my best time was 3:24:22 in New York in November 1990. For the record, that was enough to put me in the top 10% of the 28,000 or so who finished that year. But to win one of those things - you have to have a lot more natural talent than I had. And you had to train like crazy.

Many of the best runners in the world come from Africa, and more specifically from Kenya. Kenyan-born Mushir Salem Jawher won the Tiberias Marathon on Thursday with a respectable time of 2:13:13 (the world record is somewhere in the 2:06 range these days). Jawher is a Christian and a citizen of Bahrain - or at least he was until yesterday. He was also the first athlete from an Arab country to compete in an athletic event in Israel. But instead of embracing his gesture towards peace, 'moderate' Bahrain has reacted the way the Arabs always do. They stripped Jawher of his Bahrainian citizenship yesterday.
His comments in The Jerusalem Post on Friday alerted Bahraini authorities.

"When I decided to come I didn't know it was history for me to be in here, but when I arrived [I was] told no other athlete had competed in Israel," said Jawher, a Catholic. "For me, it was no problem and I hope to come back and compete next year."

But while he celebrated afterward and declared that he was "very proud" to have run in Israel, Bahrain's Athletic Union said in a statement Saturday that it had received the news that a Bahraini national competed in Israel with "shock and regret."

"The union deeply regrets what the athlete has done," the statement said. A committee of sport and government authorities decided to strike Jawher's name off the sport union records and strip him of his Bahraini nationality, the statement said.

It said Jawher had entered Israel with his Kenyan passport and added that the runner's Bahraini citizenship was revoked because he had "violated the laws of Bahrain."
The Israeli athletic community is trying to do the right thing:
On Sunday, Israeli Athletic Association Chairman Shlomo Ben-Gal announced that he would be sending a letter to the International Association of
Athletics Federation requesting it support Jawher.

"According to the international treaty, an athlete has the freedom to compete at any event he chooses to and there can be no discrimination for political reasons," Gal rightly said. "We believe that sports should be above all political considerations, and that athlete s and sporting events can bridge and connect between countries across the world."

Jawher was born in Kenya in 1978 and moved to Bahrain in 2003, according to the International Association of Athletics Federation.

The tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain has no official ties with Israel but is a close political ally of the United States.

The oil-refining and banking island also hosts the US 5th Fleet.
Ben Gal should not hold his breath waiting for an answer. And none of you should hold your breaths waiting for Condi Rice and the State Department to take it up with the Bahranians. Remember the Ghanian soccer player?



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