It's fair to say that there is much turmoil in the world we live in. Safety is top of mind for everyone in this day and age where just simply walking into an airport or eating dinner in a restaurant can potentially cost you your life as demonstrated by recent terror attacks.
The one place that should be sacred and free of politics, religious debates, discrimination, hatred or anything else negative is the Olympics. While the world's greatest athletes are competing in Rio, the focus should be on being the best you can be and making your country proud. The chance to compete in the Olympic games is the ultimate honor for any athlete. It's the greatest example there is how different people from different cultures, backgrounds and upbringings can come together, get along and respect each other.
On the surface, the Olympics might be about the athletic competition, but thousands of years ago in ancient Greece, the Olympics signified much more. No matter how long or how fierce a battle had raged, for seven days before and seven days after the Olympic Games (and, of course, for the period of the Games themselves), no fighting was allowed.
Unfortunately, the spirit of the Rio games took a back seat this past weekend when Middle Eastern politics spilled onto the judo mat. Islam El Shehalby, a judo fighter representing Egypt, lost his match to Israeli Or Sasson in the first-round heavyweight bout. But when Sasson extended his hand following the match, El Shehaby backed away and refused to shake hands as is customary between opponents in Olympic competitions.
IOC spokesman Mark Adams said, "Things happen in the heat of the moment that are not acceptable. We believe the Olympic movement should be about building bridges, not erecting walls. There's absolutely no excuse for it."
While the Egyptian fighter showed immense disrespect to his opponent and the Olympic games, what's more disturbing is he could have used the opportunity to help bring peace to the more important issue of the unrest in the Middle East. The message he could have sent by acknowledging his Israeli opponent and shaking hands could have potentially been huge. It would have showed that an athlete from an Arabic country can get along and make peace with his Israeli opponent in the Olympics, and perhaps there is hope that peace is possible between these two groups in the real world. And while some say it's a step forward that the two countries squared off in the first place, it could have been a bigger victory than any medal could ever symbolize. Perhaps it could have meant the start of peace in unsettling times. It could have shown that although we are all different, really we are all the same.
Now, sadly, the lack of respect by this athlete has not only crushed the Olympic spirit, it has stirred the political pot even more and will bring more ill will between the countries. Interestingly enough, some people felt sorry for the Egyptian fighter, claiming he was under a lot of pressure and perhaps should not have been facing an Israeli opponent in the first place. In the end, critical thinking says that if you're old enough to compete in the Olympics, then you should be mature enough to know right from wrong and be able to respect for your opponent regardless where he or she is from.
Certainly, no child is born knowing hate. We're not taught to think independently, but rather brainwashed along the way by teachers, politicians, parents, religious leaders and other authority figures. El Shehalby was influenced and taught to hate, but he's not a child anymore and his actions are inexcusable.
As Journalist Galal Nassar said, "As long as you agreed to play an Israeli champion in the Olympics, you should have exchanged the greeting."
Let's hope something like this doesn't happen again, and that the Olympic spirit continues to unite the athletes as well as the people of the world we live in. As the great John Lennon said, "You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope someday you'll join us. And the world will live as one."