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Iran-Israel Special Olympics Teams Forge Bonds

August 10, 2015

“Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  (James 3:18)

Israel’s 40-person delegation to the 2015 Special Olympics World Games in Los Angeles (LA) returned to Israel Tuesday with 61 medals.  As well, Israeli and Iranian delegates welcomed friendly shift in relations between players.

Special Olympic medals

Special Olympic medals

Israel’s Olympians carried home 25 gold, 18 silver, and 18 bronze medals for basketball, kayaking, long jump, tennis, bowling, swimming, track and the “athletics” category, which drew in the most awards of any category—12 medals, including one gold and six silver.  (JPost)

Israel’s wheelchair basketball team won the gold, beating out the Czech Republic and Austria, and securing their spot in the European Wheelchair Basketball Championships, starting August 28 in the United Kingdom.  (YNet)

Reports of the Games describe a connection that formed between athletes from Iran and Israel, who took advantage of their proximity to bond over sports and, later, to talk over the political heat between their two countries.

The bonding came even before arriving in LA, with the teams meeting aboard the 12-hour transatlantic flight from Rome.

“We were sitting next to each other,” said Israeli delegation head Reuven Astrachan.  “So what do you for twelve hours?  You talk.  You talk to your neighbor.”  (The Good Life)

According to Yedioth (Ynet News), Iranian athletes usually shun meeting with Israeli athletes at international competitions, but this year’s Games brought many of the opposing countries’ players together for photographs.

“What our athletes could teach the world leaders about respect, dignity, courage, pride and yes, peace,” said Vicki Oren, the mother of open-water swimmer Mati Oren, 32.

The torch-carrying of the opening ceremony gave a nod to the Iran-Israel bond as well, with an Iranian athlete chosen to carry the Special Olympics torch and hand it off to Israeli basketball player Eliyahu Somer.  

The Games’ organizing committee hoped the hand-off would “send a powerful message,” and with it, Somer finished the final leg of the ceremony.

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