Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir MohamadReuters

The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped Malaysia of its right to host the 2019 World Para Swimming Championships over the country's discrimination against Israeli participants, the IPC announced on Sunday.

The city of Kuching in the eastern Sarawak state was scheduled to host hundreds of swimmers from 70 countries from July 29 to August 4. The competition would have served as a qualifying event for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympics

Earlier this month Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said his country would deny visas to Israeli para swimmers seeking to attend the meet.

“We maintain our stand on the prohibition. If they do come, it is a violation,” he said, according to AFP.

“If they (the International Paralympic Committee) want to withdraw Malaysia’s right to host the championship, they can do so,” added Mahathir.

Israel's Foreign Ministry condemned Malaysia's "shameful" decision to ban Israelis from the competition.

“The Malaysian government has taken the decision to ban the participation of Israelis in official international sports events in Malaysia, including the participation of athletes with disabilities in a swimming competition organized by the International Paralympic Committee,” said a statement released by the Foreign Ministry.

“This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit,” said the statement, which added that “Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia’s PM Mahatir’s rabid anti-Semitism".

The IPC, which had earlier decided to strip Malaysia of its rights to host the competition during a meeting of its Governing Board over the last week.

Andrew Parsons, IPC President, said: “All World Championships must be open to all eligible athletes and nations to compete safely and free from discrimination. When a host country excludes athletes from a particular nation, for political reasons, then we have absolutely no alternative but to look for a new Championships host."

The Paralympic Movement has, and always will be, motivated by a desire to drive inclusion, not exclusion. Regardless of the countries involved in this matter, the IPC would take the same decision again if it was to face a similar situation involving different countries.

“In September 2017 when the IPC signed the contract with the Paralympic Council of Malaysia (NPC Malaysia) to host the World Para Swimming Championships, we had assurances that all eligible athletes and countries would be allowed to participate in the event with their safety assured.

“Since then, there has been a change of political leadership and the new Malaysian government has different ideas. Politics and sport are never a good mix and we are disappointed that Israeli athletes would not have been allowed to compete in Malaysia.

“As a result of the Board’s decision today, we are now looking for a new host for this vital World Championships, which acts as a qualifier for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. We will strive to maintain the same dates and conditions for the Championships as to not upset the training schedules of athletes who aim to peak for the end of July and early August. However, we may need to be flexible in this area bearing in mind the circumstances we face.”

Chelsey Gotell, Chairperson of the IPC Athletes’ Council, said: “The IPC Athletes' Council has received a great deal of correspondence from athletes around the world on this situation. We have discussed all potential outcomes and engaged with the World Para Swimming Athlete Advisory Group to gather their feedback on the situation to ensure the athlete voice was well reflected in the IPC Governing Board discussion and decision."

“Not only does this decision stress the importance of keeping sport and politics separate, but it also reinforces the IPC's commitment to our fundamental moral and ethical principles that encompass inclusivity of all eligible Para athletes and nations to compete at IPC sanctioned events.”

The IPC invited all nations which are interested in hosting the competition in Malaysia's stead to contact the organization by February 11, 2019.

Mahatir was sworn in as prime minister last May, nearly two decades after he last held office. He is well known for his anti-Semitic rhetoric, writing on his personal blog in 2012 that “Jews rule this world by proxy.”

In 2003, speaking at the Organization of the Islamic Conference summit in Kuala Lumpur, he said that “1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. There must be a way. And we can only find a way if we stop to think, to assess our weaknesses and our strength, to plan, to strategize and then to counterattack. We are actually very strong. 1.3 billion people cannot be simply wiped out. The Europeans killed 6 million Jews out of 12 million.”

More recently, the Malaysian Prime Minister said that Jews are "hook-nosed" and accused them of creating problems in the Middle East.

Last August, Mahatir defended his right to be anti-Semitic, arguing that anti-Semitism is an artificial construct created to silence critics of the Jews.