‘We are not the United Nations (when it comes to Palestine)’ Mr Coe

Lawson Mabhena

At the heart of every compelling narrative lies the delicate interplay of events — a choreography that weaves together characters, emotions and plot twists. 

In journalism, the sequence in which these events unfold is like a symphony, guiding the audience through a journey of discovery and revelation.

Cable News Network (CNN) is one multinational news channel that has been perfecting this art since its first broadcast on June 1, 1980, anchored by the husband-and-wife panel of Dave Walker and Lois Hart.

Last Friday morning is a case in point.

 CNN starts with a story of how on Thursday Israeli troops ruthlessly opened fire on hungry Palestinian civilians who were rushing for food aid trucks, resulting in about 112 deaths.

After this emotional report, CNN World Sport’s Amanda Davies has a sit down with World Athletics president Sebastian Coe to probe him over why the international federation has no sanctions targeting Israel for invading Gaza yet Russia and Belarus were banned over the war in Ukraine.

The shocking response from Mr Coe —which makes the CNN headline — is: “We are not the United Nations.”

Davies started the interview by asking whether the political situation in the Middle East was raised in the latest World Athletics Council meeting.

“No, it wasn’t, but I am in constant contact with the Track and Field Federation in Israel’s president and the Track and Field Federation of Palestine. 

“Really, it’s probably one of the most uplifting moments of the year that when I do sit and talk to those federation presidents, we are not talking about politics,” Mr Coe proudly said, not knowing he was cueing himself for a hard-core grilling. 

“Look we are not the United Nations; we are not a political body. We are an international federation for sport. My responsibility is to make sure our sport remains global. That where we possibly can (it is not always possible, but where we possibly can) we remain politically neutral. 

“But then we do take stands, we have taken a stand over Russia and Belarus, so our focus on this current situation is primarily to make sure that where possible we keep the sport active, particularly where infrastructure has been badly damaged or completely destroyed,” he said when Davies sought a reaction to a recent call for a ban on Israel by French lawyers. 

Davies was unrelenting. And this coming from a news channel largely accused of having more venom when reporting on the war in Ukraine than the war in Gaza.

“But when you have President Zelensky saying over two years 31 000 soldiers have died in Ukraine and then you have figures released from Gaza from the Ministry of Health saying in four months 30 000 people have been killed, you say you are unable to be neutral about Russia, how can you be neutral in this situation?” Davies asked.

In response, Mr Coe dropped his most bizarre response: “Because of the integrity of the competition, it was impossible to have Ukraine athletes being able to train properly. Many of them were actually fighting on the front and most of them were not able to compete or train in their own country. It was a very different situation.”

Anyone with at least half of their brain fully functional will tell you that Palestinian athletes can’t train “properly” under the current circumstances. 

They are living in constant fear of being bombed, always hungry, and chasing food aid trucks if they are lucky enough not to be shot down in cold blood. 

Surprisingly, Mr Coe does not see any disruptions in Gaza. The World Athletics Council was quick to ban Russia and Belarus but sees no wrong in the actions of Israel. 

On March 23 last year, the federation released a statement saying: “The World Athletics Council has today made a number of important decisions regarding the future participation of the Russian and Belarusian Member Federations in athletics, and the eligibility regulations for athletes who are transgender or who have Differences of Sexual Development (DSD).

“The Council agreed to the reinstatement of the Russian Federation (RusAF) following seven years of suspension due to egregious institutional doping violations. However, athletes, officials, and supporting personnel from Russia and Belarus are still excluded from competition for the foreseeable future due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.” 

The lack of interest in banning Israel from athletics is a microcosm of the macrocosm. Ukrainians are getting weapons to protect themselves and their territory but there is no such support for the people of Gaza. 

Palestinian lives do not matter. They will only matter when attacked by Russia, an enemy of powerful Western nations.

For all the criticism CNN has received for its coverage of the Gaza story, the sequence used to expose the bias of World Athletics, and by implication Western hegemonies, played out like a symphony, guiding the audience through a journey of discovering the US and European duplicity. 

This is why the Middle East, the Third World, and Africa in particular, must stand with the people of Gaza.

They have no one else. They are shot dead while queuing for food, bombed while awaiting attendance on hospital beds, and for some young ones killed before they are even born to have a birth right in Gaza. 

The Republic of South Africa took Israel to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for violations of the Genocide Convention in respect of its actions taken in Gaza, but tellingly, the UN court ruling that Israel must prevent genocide has been ignored. 

This clear act of defiance by Israel has put its allies and weapon donors in a precarious international legitimacy position. 

Wrote the Guardian’s Steve Crawshaw: “If this judgment is not heeded, how can Putin ever be held to account? Justice with double standards is no justice at all.”

Isn’t that so true of the world we live in? The self-appointed global police — America – has double standards, the “politically neutral” World Athletics has double standards, and the all-powerful NATO has double standards. 

There is no justice at all! No justice for Palestinians, no justice for poor Africans.

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