You could have seen this coming

In 1997, the Israeli womens team placed 3th in the European Championships. This event also acted as qualifier for the Venice cup later that year. However, when that event started, Israel had been replaced by Italy. Why? The 1997 event was held in Hammamet, Tunesia. Tunesia is an Arabic and Muslim country, and thus has no diplomatic relations with Israel. That made it impossible for the team to obtain visa and attend the event.

In 2001, the world championships were scheduled for late October, in Bali, Indonesia. Unfortunately, a couple of weeks before the event, the September 11 terrorist attacks took place and several governments, the US in front, warned their citizens that they should not travel to muslim countries. Indonesia is one of them, with 85% Muslims amongst its population, even though most people (93%) on the island of Bali are Hindu’s, not Muslims. The 2001 event had to be moved (to Paris, France) but the WBF promised to that the event would be held in Bali someday, when the political situation in the world made it safe to do so.

Apparently, this was the case in 2011, when the WBF decided to award the 2013 event to Bali, Indonesia. Actually, this is interesting in itself, as the 2011 event was held in Veldhoven, the Netherlands, and not in Morocco where it was originally planned. Morocco is, as you will know, another Arabic country and the Americans did not want to travel there, hence the move. By the time the decision for Bali was made, everybody seemed to have forgotten about the 1997 problems with the Israeli womens team. Little did they know that this would bite them in the back.

The next 2 things were unpredictable.

  1. Israel won the Transnational Teams in Veldhoven, making them the defending champions in that event.
  2. The Israeli womens team qualified for the Venice cup at the Europeans in June 2012.

The result: either in October 2011 or June 2012, one knew that teams from Israel would have to travel to Indonesia in September 2013. One also knew that Indonesia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations and this would be a problem. Finally, wherever the Israelis play in whatever sport, additional security for their players is, unfortunately, necessary. I’d love to see that this wasn’t the case, but this reality.

Now guess what happened? The combination of the Israeli and Indonesian governments, the Israel Bridge Federation IBF, the WBF and the Indonesian Bridge Federation GABSI failed to sort out the situation surrounding the Israeli womens team, forcing them to withdraw. One can read stories on why this happened and who is to blame for that all over the net, but more importantly, why did the WBF not see all this coming back in 2011, when there was ample time to move the tournament to a location where all players can actually play?

The aftermath.

And just when you thought the dust had settled, two other events triggered more discussion. First, the second US women’s team, would include Mrs. Campanile, a 2 time world champion. Even though she is eligible to play for the US, she still holds a Israeli passport. As expected, that causes problems for her visum as well. As I’m writing this blog, it appears that this still can be solved. What is more interesting to see, is the discussion on the American site. The general consensus amongst the (mainly) American participants there, is that this is an outrage. Interestingly, they seem to have forgotten that 32 (!) players were actually denied visa for the 2010 world championships in Philadelphia. 32 is about 5% of the participants, in other words, a lot.

And then, the team from Argentine in the Seniors event had to withdraw at the last minute. The rules for replacements are such that the open spot would be awarded to the #7 team in the European zone, which is... Israel. The WBF solved this matter by inviting the Dutch as a replacement, not going to the hassle of extending an invitation to Israel which they problem could not accept anyway.

The solution.

There is a simple solution. Fact is that Israel is a major force in the world of bridge and has been so for the last couple of decades. So, when an event is awarded to a certain country, check that Israeli players can enter that country. If not, move it elsewhere. Keep an eye on world developments that may change this. Blacklisting the US and other countries with extremely restrictive visa regulations to organize future events wouldn’t be that bad either. Avoid that this will be an issue, don’t scramble when the problem is actually there.

Of course, there is a better far solution: get rid of the political problems in the world, make sure we can all live in peace. Implementation of that solution is left as an exercise for the reader.

The result? We will now have championships where in 3 out of 4 events, eligible teams cannot participate. That is bad.

Henk Uijterwaal 2019