Israeli Boxers Allowed to Compete, but South Africa Issue Flares

Times Sports Editor

No matter how badly international sports officials want it to, South Africa just won't go away. The country with the racial separatist policy has been like a nightmare to them, and there were many high-ranking people waking up in cold sweats here this week.

It began last weekend, when word got to Seoul of a Los Angeles Times story by Julie Cart that some U.S. track and field athletes planned to go to South Africa shortly after the Olympics to compete in a series of meets.

And it came to a head here Thursday, when the president of the International Boxing Federation (AIBA) lashed out at the Israeli Boxing Federation for its role in a recent trip to South Africa. During the week, that situation had even triggered stories that Israel would end up pulling all its athletes out of the Olympics.

So this is about politics and greed, two of the biggest motivators in the world of sports, not to mention the world in general. And it is about the chaos South Africa continues to create despite being banned by the International Olympic Committee and despite having virtually no sanctions to compete in any sports anywhere outside its own borders.

In late June, a contingent of 12 boxers and 5 officials from Israel went to South Africa. The boxers competed through the end of July. The head of the contingent was a woman named Diahla Amsalem. She was well-known in Israeli boxing circles because she was the secretary of a number of boxing clubs as well as being the wife of the president of the Israeli Boxing Federation.

The group was Diahla Amsalem's Golden Gloves Club, but in South Africa, the traveling boxers were called Scott John International. Boxers fought under fictitious names, and the South African press went along with it.

Shortly after the group returned, two newspapers in Tel Aviv printed the story. The president of Israel's boxing federation denied any knowledge.

Soon, however, the Israeli Sports Federation, finding obvious guilt and fearing action against all its sports by the IOC, expelled 17 people, including the Amsalems, all the boxers who had gone and any officials who had gone or were involved.

Things calmed down. But then, according to an Israeli reporter who asked that his named not be used, a disgruntled boxing coach, fired after the '84 Olympics, pressed the issue with the International Boxing Federation, demanding more investigation.

And so, in the week before the Olympics were to begin here, Anwar Chowdry of Pakistan, president of the AIBA, took up the gauntlet.

Even after the Israelis had assured the AIBA that all guilty parties had been dealt with, and even after Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the IOC, had stated publicly that Israel's action seemed sufficient, Chowdry and the AIBA pushed on. One of the reasons for their action, they said, was a need to hand out their own penalties, since Israel could reverse its actions any time it wanted.

The real issue at stake was the future of three Israeli boxers here to compete. Although Israel had assured everyone that these three--Aharon Jacobashvili, Yehuda Ben Haim and Jacov Shmuel--had nothing to do with the South Africa trip, the AIBA wanted to investigate further.

So speculation increased that if the three boxers were banned, the rest of the Israeli team would boycott. That meant that Samaranch, who badly wants this to be a Games of record attendance, would be angry, as would the United States, a close ally of Israel. That in turn made the South Koreans nervous, since approval of both Samaranch and the United States is a high priority for them.

Finally, Thursday evening, Chowdry showed up for a press conference to announce his and the AIBA's action. He was 45 minutes late, he said, because the meeting had been heated and had gone on for five hours.

Then, showing anger, he announced that the Israeli contingent that had gone to South Africa had been banned for life from the AIBA, but the three boxers here would be allowed to compete in the Games while his vice presidents' council fielded any appeals from Israel.

That, in essence, stilled the gathering storm. There is no expectation that the three boxers will be banned later, nor is there any evidence to indicate that Israel truly considered a mass boycott.

Uri Afek, one of two sports officials from Israel in attendance during the AIBA's meeting, called the ruling a great victory.

"We are more than happy," he said. "The discussion was very serious and more than fair. We were very angry over our people going to South Africa. We have so many problems in Israel without this, and so much of this is much more than sport."

Chowdry was asked why he thought the Israeli group had even considered doing something like that, when they had to be fully aware of the consequences if they were caught.

"I have no proof, but yes, I think it was money," he said. "I have 146 other countries (in the AIBA) that they could have competed against to get ready for the Olympics. And they go to South Africa. What else could it be?"

Which recalls the subject of the proposed track and field meets in South Africa and the expected attendance by many Americans.

Most of the athletes interviewed by The Times who said they were considering competing in South Africa admitted being enticed by large sums of money. One reportedly was offered $75,000 for three meets.

It is known that the South African government offers benefits to companies there that put up large sums to attract foreign athletes. One of the benefits reportedly is a 90% kickback of the sponsoring company's expenditure.

This sort of thing prompted the IOC to take a strong and united stand against South Africa at meetings this June in Lausanne, Switzerland.

About the same time Chowdry was holding his press conference, javelin thrower Tom Petranoff, the leader of the U.S. athletes planning to go to South Africa, was telling the Associated Press that, upon further thought, the U.S. athletes probably would cancel their trip.

And so, South Africa apparently has been put back in its place. Which is nowhere on the international sports map.

But it was done at a cost: At least 17 sports careers in Israel are over, and the soundness of the judgment of some U.S. track and field athletes--even if it was somewhat preliminary--was found lacking.

And the specter remains. A story in Friday morning's Korea Herald reported that a high-ranking South African sports official, Denis McIldowie, had flown to Seoul to meet secretly with some IOC members. He said the goal of his meetings was to get South Africa back into the Olympic movement.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World