Malaysia has been stripped of the right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships for threatening to refuse to allow Israeli athletes to take part, the International Paralympic Committee said on Sunday.
The decision was taken “after the Home Ministry of Malaysia failed to provide the necessary guarantees that Israeli Para swimmers could participate, free from discrimination, and safely in the Championships,” the IPC said in a statement.
IPC President Andrew Parsons said: “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.
“All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination.”
The championships, a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics, were due to take place in Kuching on July 29-August 4.
Parsons said that in September 2017, the IPC received assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured.
“Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas… We are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia,” he said.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon tweeted: “This is a victory of values over hatred and bigotry, a strong statement in favor of freedom and equality. Thank you @Paralympics for your brave decision.”
Earlier this month, Malaysia — a predominantly Muslim country — said it would refuse to host events that have Israeli participation, with Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah saying: “It is about fighting on behalf of the oppressed.”
Malaysia’s Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman said if hosting an international sports event was more important than the country’s support for the Palestinian cause, “(it) means Malaysia has truly loss its moral compass”.
“Malaysia stands firm with our decision on the ground of humanity and compassion for the Palestinian plight. We will not compromise,” the minister added.
Malaysia is one of several Muslim states that have no formal diplomatic ties with Israel. It is forbidden to enter the country on an Israeli passport.
The Palestinian cause has widespread support in Malaysia and thousands took to the streets in protest when US President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.
Malaysia has prevented Israeli athletes from competing in a sports event before. Two Israeli windsurfers had to pull out of a competition on the island of Langkawi after they were refused visas in 2015.
Kuala Lumpur also refused to host a conference for world football’s governing body FIFA in 2017 as an Israeli delegation was due to attend.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, now 93 and in his second stint as premier, has in the past attracted criticism for his verbal attacks on Jews, including calling them “hook-nosed”.