LONDON: The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) has stripped Malaysia of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships after the country banned Israeli athletes from participating.
The championships, a qualifier for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, had been scheduled to be held in Kuching, Sarawak, between July 29 and Aug 4.
The IPC said a new venue would be sought for the same dates, although there might have to be some flexibility in the light of circumstances.
“All world championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination,” said IPC president Andrew Parsons in a statement picked up by Reuters after a meeting of the IPC governing board here.
“When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new championships host.”
In response, Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said if hosting an international sporting event was more important than standing up for the Palestinians, “that means Malaysia has truly lost its moral compass”.
“We would like to remind the IPC that even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported that the Netanyahu government is an active perpetrator of war crimes,” he said, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Malaysia stands firmly with the decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise,” he said in a statement.
Malaysia does not maintain diplomatic relations with Israel. The country announced last week that it would bar Israelis from any event held in Malaysia.
Israel condemned the ban as “shameful” and said the decision was inspired by Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s “rabid anti-Semitism”.
Mahathir, 93, has for decades been accused of anti-Semitism for his attacks against Jews.
Some 600 swimmers from 60 countries had been expected to compete in the championships, with more than 160 titles to be won.
The IPC said all potential replacement hosts were asked to express an interest by Feb 11.
Parsons said that when Malaysia was awarded the championships in 2017, the IPC had been given the assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate with their safety assured.
“Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas,” he said.