The Lebanese Olympic delegation refused to allow Israeli athletes to board their shared bus to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games opening ceremony on Friday night, forcing the Israeli delegation to take a different bus to the Maracana Stadium.
The Lebanese and Israeli delegations were apparently assigned to the same bus. After the Lebanese athletes boarded and discovered they were expected to share with Israelis, they blocked the entrance, asking the bus driver to close the door in the face of their rivals.
Udi Gal, the Israeli sailing team trainer, argued with the organizers, who attempted to split up the Israeli delegation and send them on different buses to defuse the situation. Gal insisted that the Israeli athletes be allowed to board as planned.
However, when the bus driver opened the door, the head of the Lebanese delegation, Salim al-Haj Nakoula, blocked it with his body, physically preventing the Israelis from alighting.
In a Facebook post, Gal described the situation. “The organizers tried to split us up to different buses, something which was not possible security and representation-wise,” he wrote in a post following the incident.
“I insisted and we insisted that we get on the intended bus, and if the Lebanese didn’t want (to ride with us), they were welcome to get off. The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the entrance with his body.
In order to placating the Lebanese delegation, the bus assignments were changed. “The organizers tried to prevent an international incident and sent us aside to a different bus,” Gal wrote.
The trainer said that he was “enraged and shocked” by the behavior of the Olympic staff.
“How is it that they let something like this happen, and on the opening night of the Olympic Games? Isn’t this the opposite of what the Olympics represent and (doesn’t this) work against it? I cannot describe the way I feel,” he wrote.
Abra Forman is the Managing Editor of Breaking Israel News. A native New Yorker, she moved to Israel in 2011 after participating in the inspiring program Livnot and experiencing kibbutz life in the North. Abra completed a B.A. in English Literature at Binghamton University in 2009. After making aliyah, she studied Hebrew at Hadassah College and then earned a Master’s degree, also in English Literature, from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where she has lived for four years. She can be reached by email.