I’m a huge sports fan. Not only do I love the competitive aspect of it, but I also believe sports can teach lots of good life lessons, such as the value of hard work, how to perform under pressure, how to win and lose gracefully, how to play fairly, how to be part of a team, and how to set goals. Sports can also build positive personal characteristics like confidence, humility, and respect.
So I was disappointed when I read about what happened at the conclusion of one of the judoka events at the Olympics. Israeli heavyweight Or Sasson had just defeated Islam El Shehaby of Egypt in a first-round match, and El Shehaby refused to shake Sasson’s extended hand. The crowd reacted with boos, which to me was the appropriate reaction. The 34-year-old was also “strongly reprimanded” by the International Olympic Committee for his behavior.
I think it’s one thing to not shake someone’s hand if you feel the person did not compete fairly. But to not shake an opponent’s hand because of what country he is from, or what his religion is, or what the color of his skin is, or what his sexual orientation is, seems completely wrong.
If you have such strong feelings on such issues that you know you won’t be able to shake your opponent’s hand, then you shouldn’t be at the Olympics.
The Olympics are supposed to be above such behavior, and in fact are meant to promote the exact opposite of such reactions. Sports, and the Olympics in particular, are a great way to bring a wide variety of people together so that they can learn about and appreciate such diversity.
So to me it’s simple. If you’re not willing to shake the hand of any potential competitor because that person is different from you in some way, then skip the Olympics. Let someone with a more open mind take your place. We’ll all be better for it.
By the way, if you want to see a positive example of the power of sports, here’s a great story.