KUCHING, Jan 28 — The Sarawak state government today expressed regret over the International Paralympic Committee’s (IPC) move to strip the state of the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships later this year.
“We are sad that IPC has to come to this decision. The state of Sarawak and Kuching City as host city respect this decision which was made pursuant to Malaysia barring the entry and participation of Israel athletes into Malaysia,” state Tourism, Arts, Culture, Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Abdul Karim Rahman Hamzah said.
“This (the ban on Israeli athletes) is a national foreign policy of Malaysia which Sarawak as a state within Malaysia has to respect,” he told Malay Mail.
“Though we are sad that this decision was made, we accept it with an open heart,” he said.
Karim said that as of yesterday, 64 countries have confirmed their participation involving 1,678 athletes and officials.
“I know that flights and accommodation bookings have been done and a lot of effort has been put in place to make this international paralympic swimming championships a successful one,” he said.
The championships would have been held at the Pandelela Rinong Aquatic Centre here from July 29 to August 4, 2019.
The IPC yesterday stripped Malaysia of the right to host the championships over Putrajaya’s refusal to allow Israeli athletes’ participation in the sports event.
The IPC, which organises the Paralympic Games, had pointed out that when it signed a contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia in September 2017 to host the World Para Swimming Championships, it had been assured that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event.
IPC president Andrew Parsons had stressed that all world championships must be open to all eligible athletes.
Parsons had said the IPC would try to maintain the same dates and conditions for the championship, but flexibility was required in lieu of the circumstances.
The championships here were set to feature 600 swimmers from 60 nations including Israel. With 160 titles up for grabs, it was to be a precursor for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics.
However, as Malaysia refuses to officially recognise Israel, Israelis cannot enter Malaysia and vice versa.
According to IPC Athletes’ Council chair Chelsey Gotell, they have been receiving much feedback from athletes regarding the situation in Malaysia and are discussing possible alternatives.
“We have discussed all potential outcomes and engaged with the World Para Swimming Athlete Advisory Group to gather their feedback on the situation to ensure the athletes’ voice was well reflected in the IPC Governing Board discussion and decision,” said Gotell.
“Not only does this decision stress the importance of keeping sport and politics separate, but it also reinforces the IPC’s commitment to our fundamental moral and ethical principles that encompass inclusivity of all eligible Para athletes and nations to compete at IPC sanctioned events,” said Gotell.
IPC’s decision means the World Para Swimming Championships have been disrupted for the second time in a row after the 2017 edition in Mexico City was delayed by two months following an earthquake.