EUGENE, Ore. — With more than 177 countries represented at the World Junior Championships this week, some athletes are representing war-torn countries, and sometimes different sides of the same war compete against each other.
“Separate the political issues from the sport,” said Bader Naser, the Bahrainian coach.
Naser, a coach from the middle-eastern island of Bahrain, says athletic events should welcome all nations, regardless of politics.
“Sports is a different issue. Sports gets the people together,” Naser said.
Stand outside the university’s athlete village, and you’ll hear the same sentiment expressed over and over by the athletes and coaches who pass by.
“Once the games are over, people are going to continue going back to that battle. But for these seven days of competition, I think everybody wants to go out and produce the best team they can,” said Haisha Bisiolu, a Nigerian long jumper.
Even the 100-meter relay team for the Netherlands, which lost over a hundred citizens in the downing of Malaysia Flight 17, said they hold no ill feelings toward any other team.
“It’s only sports. Nothing else. We don’t feel any competition…They did nothing wrong to us,” said Tasa Jiya, a relay runner for the Netherlands.
“I don’t like war,” said Ilya Terentyev.
Terentyev, a hammer thrower from the Russian Federation–a country accused by some of participating in the take down of MH-17–says politics does not interest him, only sports.
“After this conflict, we will be friend.//You’ll be friends again?//Yes,” Terentyev said.
Volunteer ambassadors from the university have been working with teams to help them bridge any cultural gaps or misunderstandings.
“We have about 1,700 athletes, and they’re coming here and enjoying themselves and competing with virtually no issues so far,” said global ambassador, Joshua Gurnick.
“Sports and goodwill bring everyone together,” said Gersh Gregory.
Gregory, the javelin coach for Israel, whose army is fighting a war with Hamas, says politicians can learn a lot from athletes.
“It’s a good idea,” Gregory said.
So far, only one international incident has been reported. An Asian coach said she was “dishonored” by being publicly chastised by a cafeteria worker for taking too much fruit.