They refused to play the anthem when he won gold, so he quietly sang it himself

October 28, 2017

* A diverse range of people -- from the leader of Britain’s Scottish Conservatives to a West Wing actor to the founder of WhatsApp -- praise the dignity of Israel’s judo gold medal winner as he sings the national anthem alone when the tournament hosts refused to play it. Video below. (Will other athletes now follow American tennis player Andy Roddick’s lead?)


Lazio soccer players wore images of Anne Frank and the words ‘No to anti-Semitism’ on their shirts on Wednesday – by chance they were playing at Bologna in front of a stand dedicated to the memory of Arpad Weisz, the great Jewish Hungarian player and coach who had outstanding success in Italian football (and until today remains the youngest manager ever to win Serie A), before being murdered in Auschwitz in 1944.



1. They refused to play the anthem when he won gold, so he quietly sang it himself
2. Andy Roddick makes a stand
3. Will the IJF take action?
4. “Italian football needs more than a public reading to bring meaningful change” (By Paolo Bandini, The Guardian, Oct. 26, 2017)
5. “Italian Soccer club owner’s response to anti-Semitism leaves Rome’s Jewish community ‘unimpressed’” (By Davide Lerner, Haaretz, Oct. 26, 2017)



[Note by Tom Gross]

A sizeable number of people wrote to me about the recent dispatches on sport.

Below are two follow-up items to the dispatch last week:

‘Diary of Anne Frank’ to be read at all Italian soccer matches (& anti-Semitic professors in US)


First, for those who haven’t been following this story, Israeli Tal Flicker won the Gold medal at the Judo Grand Slam competition in Abu Dhabi on Thursday. Contrary to all sporting norms, the tournament hosts refused to raise the Israeli flag or play the Israeli national anthem. So in a moment of dignified defiance against anti-Semitic racism, he quietly sang it himself.

Here is a one-minute video from British TV

Tal Flicker’s stand against sporting bigotry has been praised on social media by persons that don’t usually involve themselves in Israeli affairs, including WhatsApp founder Jan Koum, Scottish Conservative party leader Ruth Davidson, and Scandal and West Wing actor Joshua Malina.

Tal Flicker told Israel’s Channel 2 television: “The anthem that they played from the world federation was just background noise. I was singing Hatikva from my heart.”

Israeli athletes won five medals at the judo tournament, despite being harassed at every turn. Their journeys to Abu Dhabi were delayed after being refused visas and they were initially refused permission to change planes in Istanbul airport. Alone among the athletes of the world, they were not allowed to have their national flag attached to their clothing.

And yet they beat athletes from Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Hungary and elsewhere, and out of the 12 male and female Israelis participating in the two-day judo tournament on Thursday and Friday, five Israelis won medals, a remarkable achievement.

As in other areas of life, perhaps the discrimination Jews felt spurred them to try especially hard and do particularly well.



What is disappointing is that almost no other athletes have made any kind of protest on behalf of the Israelis.

A rare exception is the American tennis star Andy Roddick.

When in 2009, the UAE refused to allow Israel’s then number one women’s tennis player Shahar Peer to play at the Dubai open, Roddick was alone among major stars in pulling out of the tournament in solidarity, saying he would not participate in a tournament where Jews were not allowed to play.

The Wall Street Journal also terminated their tournament sponsorship as a result of the discrimination against Israel and the Dubai organizers were subsequently fined a record $300,000 by the World Tennis Association (WTA).

At the time Peer was ranked 19th in the world.

The following year, after the protest by Roddick, the Wall Street Journal and the WTA, Shahar Peer was allowed to play in Dubai, although she needed five bodyguards and was kept separate from the other women players.

(Stacey Allaster, the chief executive of the Sony Ericsson WTA tour, told the Dubai organizers that if they didn’t let Shahar Peer play in 2010, they would cancel the entire tournament. It is rare in the sporting world for sporting bodies to take such a stand.)

Peer went all the way to the semi-finals in Dubai, losing to Venus Williams.

“I can’t imagine playing as well as Shahar in these circumstances,” Williams said of the discrimination Peer faced while in Dubai. “I have to give Shahar congratulations. She’s courageous. I don’t think anyone else on tour could do what she’s doing.”

As a result of her courage, two months later, Peer (who at one stage was ranked 15 in the world) accompanied by her grandmother, an Auschwitz survivor, was chosen to lead 10,000 people at the “March of the Living” in Poland.

“My grandmother was 14 when she sent to Auschwitz,” said Peer. “Most of her family died in the Holocaust, and only she and her sister survived. It was a tough trip for her. It was her first trip back to Auschwitz.”



It remains to be seen whether the International Judo Federation will be as firm against Dubai as the World Tennis Association was against United Arab Emirates.

In a letter last week from the International Judo Federation to the president of the UAE Judo Federation, leaked to The Associated Press, it told them before the tournament that “all delegations, including the Israeli delegation, must be treated absolutely equally in all aspects, without any exception.”

The letter added the IJF statutes “clearly provide that the IJF shall not discriminate on the ground of race, religion, gender or political opinion.”

Discrimination against Israelis at sporting events is nothing new, just as Jews were discriminated against at sporting events in many countries on a number of occasions before modern Israel existed.

For example, as I reported in a dispatch on this list last year, at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Lebanese athletes prevented Israel’s team from boarding the bus that was taking athletes to the stadium.

When Israel’s Or Sasson won a bronze medal for judo at the 2016 Rio Olympics, Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby refused to shake hands with Sasson.

Or Sasson won another bronze medal in Dubai on Friday. He told Israeli media yesterday: “Whereas competitors from all other countries had their national flag I had a bare patch on my chest. But my heart is still there and my heart is with the state of Israel.”


Two UAE judo officials (but not others) apologized today for a UAE athlete’s refusal to shake hands with Israeli judokas at the Abu Dhabi Judo Grand Slam tournament.

After Israel’s Tohar Butbul defeated the UAE’s Rashad Almashjari, he held out his hand for a handshake. Almashjari turned his back and walked away.


I attach two articles below.




Italian football needs more than a public reading to bring meaningful change

After a week of ultras-related outrage and public relations damage in Italy, the only surprise, regrettably, is that anyone should still be surprised

By Paolo Bandini
The Guardian
October 26, 2017

Of all the stadiums Lazio could visit on Wednesday, it had to be the Renato Dall’Ara. Their week had begun amidst outrage after ultras affixed anti-semitic stickers, including mocked-up images of Anne Frank in a Roma shirt, to plexiglass barriers inside their own Stadio Olimpico. Now supporters travelling to their away game against Bologna would occupy a stand dedicated to the memory of Arpad Weisz.

A Jewish Hungarian, Weisz came to Italy late in his playing career and stayed on afterwards to move into coaching. He remains the youngest manager ever to win Serie A, having led Inter – then known as Ambrosiana, following pressure from the fascist government to adopt a more ‘Italian’ branding – to the Scudetto at 34. Weisz would claim two further titles with Bologna, before fleeing the country following the introduction of racial laws. He was killed at Auschwitz in 1944.

His final game in Italian football was as manager of Bologna, against Lazio. There remains a plaque dedicated to him on an exterior wall of the Dall’Ara. Such cues were insufficient, apparently, to dissuade a small group of away fans from performing fascist salutes and singing “Me ne frego” (“I don’t give a damn”) – a slogan of Mussolini’s blackshirt militias – as they waited to enter the ground.

The only surprise, regrettably, is that anyone should still be surprised. A culture of anti-semitic and racist humour has long persisted among ultras from a great many Italian football teams, always excused by its propagators in the same terms: as irreverence, banter, deliberate bad-taste satire. Likewise, the response to any outrage is met always with claims of double standards. “Why is the media outraged about our joke,” they ask, “but not the one that those other guys made?”

To some extent, that retort might be valid. This was not even a new ‘gag’ among Lazio’s ultras, who affixed the exact same image to road signs as long ago as 2013. Likewise, there is graffiti in the Testaccio neighbourhood, an area of strong Roma support, proclaiming that “Anne Frank supports Lazio”.

So when figures as prominent as the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, step forward to portray this latest act of anti-semitic vandalism as “a dishuman and alarming gesture” it only serves to nourish the perpetrators’ victim mentality. A post on the Facebook page of Lazio’s Curva Nord observed that: “We are amazed that these things, which are considered as insults or offences or who knows whatever else, when they are used against us, don’t seem to scandalise anyone.”

Nor is it difficult for them to portray their critics as hypocrites. The Italian Football Federation arranged for a segment of Anne Frank’s diary to be read out before each game in the midweek round – from Serie A right down to Serie C. Its president, Carlo Tavecchio, spoke out against “unqualifiable behaviour which offends a community and our whole country”. But this is the same man who won his job despite infamously lamenting the “banana eaters” flooding Italy’s domestic leagues.

Lazio ran their own initiatives, with players wearing shirts with Anne Frank’s face on before kick-off against Bologna. One day earlier, a group had travelled with the team president, Claudio Lotito, to lay flowers outside the Great Synagogue of Rome. But that gesture was undermined when a member of the public recorded Lotito describing the event as a “sceneggiata” – a show – during a phone call as he waited to board a plane.

Despite attempts to contextualise – Lotito’s colleagues insisting he was just frustrated at his inability to make constructive contact with leading members of the Jewish community at the time – the public relations damage had already been done. A wreath laid outside the synagogue was subsequently found to have been tossed into the River Tiber.

What will come of it all? Not a lot, most likely. An inquiry will be launched and Lazio may play a game or two behind closed doors. The irony here is that the Curva Nord had been shut already for Sunday’s match against Cagliari, as a punishment for racist chanting. The Anne Frank stickers were placed in the Curva Sud, perhaps an act of opportunism by ultras who had switched to what is traditionally the ‘Roma’ end of the stadium.

Many boycotted the Bologna match on Wednesday, but those who did make the trip were treated to a 2-1 win. The margin of victory ought to have been greater. Lazio were scintillating in the first half, scoring twice and hitting the woodwork twice more, but a Senad Lulic own goal made things a little hairy in the second.

“Even Arpad Weisz would have applauded this Lazio team,” wrote Andrea Schianchi in Gazzetta dello Sport. What he would have made of everything else that surrounds Italian football nowadays is another question entirely.

Whereas the majority of fans up and down the country stood quietly to listen to the passage from Anne Frank’s diary, there were pockets of ultras in several places who rebelled in their own way. Back at the Stadio Olimpico, some of those Roma supporters reoccupying the Curva Sud sang team chants over the reading. In Turin, a group of Juventus ultras launched into the Italian national anthem.

“I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions,” ran the excerpt in question. “And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquillity will return once more.”

Those words are as powerful as ever. It will take more than a public reading, though, to bring about meaningful change.



Italian Soccer Club Owner’s Response to anti-Semitism Leaves Rome’s Jewish Community ‘Unimpressed’
By Davide Lerner
October 26, 2017

‘He thought he could get away from the scandal by turning up at the synagogue with a bunch of flowers,’ says one community member. ‘We expected concrete steps, not trivial gestures’


On the face of it, the owner and president of the Roman soccer club Lazio seemed to be taking a very firm stance against the latest episode of anti-Semitism by his club’s hooligan supporters. Earlier this week the hard-core fans, known in Italy as ultras, plastered stickers of Anne Frank wearing the jersey of Lazio’s rival club, Roma, in their shared stadium. Lazio’s president, Claudio Lotito, condemned the episode, headed to the Great Synagogue of Rome with a blue and white flower wreath – his club’s colors – and promised to bring 200 supporters every year to the Auschwitz concentration camp for an educational trip. Twenty-four hours later, however, Italian police found the flowers floating in the waters of the Tiber, the river that runs through the city. The local Jewish community did not take the solidarity gesture well.

“I can confirm that the flowers were thrown away by members of the Jewish community,” said Daniele Regard, a 31-year-old Italian Jew who works as a press officer for Nicola Zingaretti, the president of Italy’s Lazio region. “To most people in the community, those flowers were too little, too late,” he added. At the beginning of the month, the Italian Football Federation decided to close down the northern curva, or stadium stands, where Lazio’s hard-core supporters normally sit. The decision was taken after they booed black players from the Sassuolo club, something Lazio fans have a long history of doing. Instead of letting them stay at home for Lazio’s match against Cagliari, Lotito decided to open up the southern stands of the stadium, the place where Roma’s hard-core fans usually sit. He sold tickets for 1 euro – virtually a gift to the banned fans – giving them the opportunity to paste the controversial stickers all over the enemy’s terrace. The Italian Football Federation has now decided to take measures against the move.

“Lotito made concessions to the hard-core fans after they engaged in racist behavior, and then he thought he could get away from the Anne Frank scandal by turning up at the synagogue with a bunch of flowers,” says Enrico Camp, another young Jew from the Rome community. “We expected concrete steps, not trivial gestures,” he concludes.

“The visit came across as a rushed way to clean Lazio’s conscience,” agrees Daniele Di Nepi, a soccer fan from Rome who lives in Israel and works at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. To make matters even worse, a recording where Lotito dismissed his visit to the synagogue as a “charade” – that is, a necessary PR operation because of the widespread outrage over the stickers, rather than a sincere way to show solidarity – emerged on Wednesday. In another misstep that gave the impression he didn’t take the case seriously enough, Lotitio said on a radio program that the media outrage surrounding the Anne Frank stickers could be a conspiracy against Lazio, “because we are doing so well this season.”

In the aftermath of the scandal, the Italian Football Federation deemed that passages from Anne Frank’s famous diary would be read ahead of this week’s matches in the Italian Serie A league. On Wednesday evening, referees gave copies of the book, along with Primo Levi’s “The Drowned and the Saved,” to the captains of the teams, who in turn gave it to the children who traditionally walk them to the pitch. But these measures are not effective, members of Rome’s Jewish community told Haaretz. “It is extremely stupid and wrong to treat the current incidents as an episode, and to try to address them with an emergency response,” said Camp. “Racism is a structural, long-standing problem for Italian soccer, which includes not only anti-Semitism but also discrimination against black players and territorial discrimination against the poorer regions of Italy’s south.”

In yet another expression of racism, a few days ago, fans of the Benevento club from the southern province with the same name put up a banner calling their former coach a “Gypsy” after a series of bad losses for their team. Southern supporters are often mocked as “terroni,” a derogatory term which literally means “people of the land” or “farmers,” by their rivals.

Lazio’s hooligans were genuinely surprised at the public’s outrage to their Anne Frank stickers, since their recent behavior isn’t any different than what they have consistently been doing for decades. Di Nepi thinks it will not go away: “Sometimes a scandal on racism in Italian soccer erupts, people kick up a big fuss about it and then everything goes back to where it was before,” he says. “Racism among hooligans is a problem for most Italian teams.” His friend Daniele Regard agrees. “It takes more than a few readings of Anne Frank or some flowers to solve such a deep-rooted, profound cultural problem,” he says. Many hard-core supporters across Italy did not react well to the exchange of books about the Holocaust in the pitch, chanting disrespectful slogans or ignoring the event altogether. Supporters of the Ascoli club went as far as purposely remaining outside of the stadium when the ceremony took place ahead of their team’s match.

“If anything, the current round of measures against anti-Semitism will make the phenomenon go bigger. The Jews will come across as annoying, as always behaving like they are victims,” says Clemente Mimun, a prominent Italian journalist who happens to be both a Jew and a Lazio fan. As someone who knows Lazio well, he swears that Lotito actually had long years of conflict with the hooligans and that he is not complicit when it comes to racism and anti-Semitism. “Israeli ambassador Ehud Gol used to sit next to him at Lazio matches,” he recalls, even though he admits giving out tickets to banned ultra fans two weeks ago was a mistake on Lotito’s part.

Politically, the Jewish community in Rome has been closer aligned to the right to the left in the last few years. But when the most conservative segment of the right bring up references to their fascist past and proudly uphold them, the entire community feels a deep sense of unease. Mimun, who is 64, says that he suffers a great deal from the racism of the fans of the very team he supports: “Soccer was the last game connecting me to my childhood, and they broke it, I don’t know if I will be able to go to the stadium anymore, I’m so pained and angry.”


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