Political strife among Asian nations had rocked the recent history for the Youth Sailing World Championships.
Conflict during the 2015 event in Malaysia led the Israel team to pull out. The 2016 event was moved to New Zealand after Oman withdrew from hosting the event, and while reasons were not given, it was likely not a funding problem. And then in 2017, Israel withdrew hosting the event, and while they claimed it was due to funding, odds are the reason was more complicated.
It was with optimism that when 433 sailors from 59 nations were to compete in the 2021 Youth Sailing World Championships on December 13-17, there would be no issues with the venue in Mussanah, Oman. There almost wasn’t.
With the venue located on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula in Western Asia, the Israeli who won the gold medal in the Female Kiteboarding event said the authorities banned the playing of the national anthem and the displaying of the Israeli flag.
According to an interview with Israel’s Channel 12 news, 18-year-old Gal Zuckerman revealed that the national team participated “under the radar” due to the sultanate’s limited diplomatic ties with Israel.
While on the podium, as silver medalist Julia Damasiewicz (POL) and bronze medalist Héloïse Pégourié (FRA) waved their national flags, Zuckerman was without Israel’s flag consisting of a white field bearing two horizontal blue stripes and a central Star of David. To watch the Facebook video, click here.
Zuckerman said her victory “caused a bit of a mess” as “everyone’s anthems were cancelled, because of me. I really wanted to tell family, mom and dad, and friends I had won, but I could not; I was forbidden. Nobody knew about the achievement in real-time.”
Although there have been several speculative reports that Oman may follow Gulf states UAE and Bahrain in normalizing ties with Israel, Oman’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Badr Al-Busaidi said in February that the sultanate was satisfied with its current relationship with Israel, which involved “the appropriate channels of communication.”
In July, Al-Busaidi reiterated Oman’s position in an interview with London-based Asharq Al-Awsat, that his country will not be the third Gulf state to normalize ties with Israel, following a telephone conversation with his Israeli counterpart, Yair Lapid.
In 2018 the late-Sultan Qaboos Bin Said hosted then-Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Muscat in what local media reports said was the country’s effort to push forward the stalled peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, in addition to discussing a number of issues of common interest.
However, Oman’s hesitancy in normalization with Israel may also be over fears it could severely undermine important, historic ties with neighboring Iran.
After the 2020 event was cancelled due to the pandemic, the 2022 Youth Sailing Worlds heads to Europe to be held July 8-15 in The Hague, Netherlands.