Guest Column

By Gerry Chidiac

This month marks 30 years since the start of the Rwandan Genocide. I still feel great embarrassment when I teach my students about this topic because one of the main reasons why nearly a million people died was because there was almost complete apathy in the powerful countries of the world. I readily admit to my students that I remain haunted by my lack of persistent action, and I have vowed to never let that happen again.

The words of Aaron Bushnell, the American serviceman who recently self-immolated, resonate in me, as they do in millions of others, “Many of us ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow South? Or Apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.”

Before the assault on Gaza began in October, I watched a lot of sports, especially professional and international sports. I can no longer do so. I have tried, but I simply cannot. The moral inconsistencies are too glaring.

When Russia invaded Ukraine, the sports world did the right thing and imposed sanctions. Russia and its primary ally Belaurs were suspended by the International Soccer Federation (FIFA), the International Basketball Federation (FIBA), and many other international sporting bodies.

When Israel was attacked on October 7, Major League Baseball (MLB), the National Basketball Association (NBA), the National Hockey League (NHL), and the National Football League (NFL) did not hesitate to express support for the State of Israel.

Few would disagree that children are precious and innocent and that any death of a child in armed conflict is a tragedy. Nearly 600 children have been killed in Ukraine since 2022. Israel reported that 38 children died on October 7. The number of Palestinian children murdered by the Israeli military since October 7 is approaching 15,000.

Yet, no international sporting body has sanctioned the State of Israel, and no professional sports league in North America or Europe has expressed solidarity with the Palestinian people. In fact, athletes and fans have been sanctioned for expressing empathy toward a population that has been under constant assault for the last six months. At least two professional soccer players in Europe have been suspended for making pro-Palestinian statements. When fans of the Scottish soccer team Celtic waved Palestinian flags and sang in unison, “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, the team was fined by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA).

The only active athlete in North American sports to make any sort of pro-Palestinian was NBA star Kyrie Irving, who wore a Kiffeya during a press conference last November. Current professionals are a far cry from NFL stars Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett, who stood up for the rights of both African Americans and Palestinians. Kaepernick paid for his integrity with his career.

It also needs to be pointed out that the lack of moral consistency puts amateur athletes of conscience into a difficult bind. The Irish national women’s basketball team expressed concern about having to play Israel in a European qualifying match. The Israeli team responded with accusations of antisemitism toward the Irish and by posting intimidating pictures with machine guns at their training facility. The Irish were told that their team would face sanctions if they did not play Israel, and the two squads engaged in an awkward game in a neutral setting. All of this would have been avoided had FIBA officials followed the stated virtues of their organization.

It seems that sporting bodies will only take a stand when victims of violence are white (the exception being Apartheid South Africa after years of lobbying by human rights advocates).

I see all human beings as human. I can no longer sanction racism and hypocrisy in the world of athletics. Boycotting these sports is the only way for me to maintain my integrity.

Gerry Chidiac is a Canadian educator and a columnist for Troy Media.


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