Kiteboarder Gal Zuckerman won the event in the Youth Sailing World Championships but could tell no one in real time of her victory.
By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News
Eighteen-year-old Gal Zuckerman won a gold medal in the Youth Sailing World Championships last week in Oman without being able to see the Israeli flag or hear the national anthem played when she stood on the podium, Channel 12 reported Friday.
The whole Israeli presence in the Arab country was shrouded in secrecy, the kiteboarder told the network.
“The competition’s site did not post our photos or announce us. We were there under the radar. One of the Israeli association’s agreements with the competition organizers, so that we could get there, was that we would walk around without flags and that if a competitor from Israel got on the podium, they would do it without the state flag,” she said.
In fact, the teenage sensation came in first in every single one of the 18 rounds of her competition, so the fact that she was going to win was a foregone conclusion early on. This, she said, made a “bit of a mess” for the organizers. “When it was already clear [the day before] that I was going to win the gold, everyone’s anthems were canceled, because of me.”
Zuckerman also wasn’t allowed to tell her family and friends that she had won in real time as she was prohibited from calling them, she said.
Two other Israelis who tasted success in the week-long event that ended on December 17 were also affected by the Omani decision. Roy Levi and Ariel Gal came in third in the 420 Dinghy race but their bronze medal was also not attributed to Israel when they received their bronze medals. They were one of the few mixed pairings, among the all-male duos, and also among the youngest competing in their event.
Muscat’s strict limitations on Israeli participation fulfilled the letter if not the spirit of international sporting law that demands that no country practice discrimination by prohibiting the entry of athletes to world events it hosts, based on their religion, nationality, sex, or any other reason.
It can be seen as a surprising move on Oman’s part as the government publicly supported the normalization agreements that fellow Arab countries Bahrain and the UAE signed with Israel last year. Its openness to Israel was seemingly a sign that it, too, would join the Abraham Accords, and sooner rather than later.
In stark contrast to the cold attitude of the government, Zuckerman said in her interview that the organizers were very nice to the Israelis.
“The locals tried to treat us like any of other competitors,” she said. “I even ‘clicked’ with one of the locals and every time we met him, he gave me a high five and wished me luck. After the competition he congratulated me on his personal Instagram and tagged me. That was touching. And the local manager of the competition always checked on us Israelis, to see how we were doing.”
Zuckerman’s huge accomplishment of winning every race was totally unforeseen, she said. “It’s a crazy feeling,” she said. “When I flew to the competition, I didn’t expect to win at all – and certainly not like this. My goal was to reach the podium, and suddenly I’m the world champion.”
As kiteboarding will be an Olympic sport for the first time in 2024, a gold in Paris is now her goal. “Absolutely,” she said. “This is the beginning of the road but I intend to work very hard in order to reach it.”