21/01/2019 11:31 GMT | Updated 22/01/2019 09:43 GMT

Exclusive: 'Government Must Stand Up To Malaysia Over Israeli Athlete Ban', Tom Watson Warns Jeremy Hunt

Israeli swimmers have been barred from a key Paralympics qualifier.

Toby Melville / Reuters
The government must stand up to Malaysia over its ban on Israeli athletes, deputy Labour leader Tom Watson said 

The government must make a stand over Malaysia’s decision to bar Israeli athletes from a key Paralympics qualifier, Tom Watson has demanded in letter to Jeremy Hunt.

Officials in Malaysia – which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel – announced last week that they would not allow competitors from Israel into the country for the World Para Swimming Championships over the summer – a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.

According to AFP, the country has now insisted it will not host any events that have Israeli participation.

In a letter to the foreign secretary on Friday, Watson branded Malaysia’s decision to block the swimmers from competing “completely unacceptable”, saying it would “unfairly hinder the chances of these athletes being able to compete at the 2020 Paralympic Games”.

The “decision to discriminate against Israeli athletes” also goes against the mission of the International Paralympic Committee (IPC), the deputy Labour leader said. 

Tom Watson
Tom Watson's letter to foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt 

The government must therefore put pressure on the Malaysian High Commissioner to reverse the decision, Watson told Hunt.

“If the Malaysian government refuses to do so, I would ask that you call on the International Paralympic Committee and World Para Swimming to relocate the Championships to a nation where the ideals of the Olympic movement will be upheld by allowing Israeli athletes to participate.”

Watson’s letter comes after the IPC called Malaysia’s decision “bitterly disappointing”, saying it would explore “all options open to us” to try and ensure all eligible athletes were able to compete.

Meanwhile, Labour Friends of Israel chair Joan Ryan – who has written to the Malaysian High Commissioner over the issue – said the ban was “utterly appalling” and “completely contrary to the ideals of the Olympic movement”.

They must reverse this decision immediately,” the Enfield North MP said. “If they do not, the championships should be relocated and Malaysia barred from hosting sporting events until they recognise that there is no place for racism and prejudice in sport.”

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We do not agree with Malaysian Government’s position on this. It is fundamentally wrong.

“Israeli athletes should not be banned from competing,” they added.