The title of this column is an Arab proverb, and a timely one.
The agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates means that there are now three Arab states (including Egypt and Jordan) that have full diplomatic relations with Israel.
But this column isn’t about geo-politics. It’s about offering hope to a region long under-served by that essential quality humans need to both endure and progress.
I believe it is time to start planning for an Olympic Games in the Middle East.
The Middle East has never (and according to some, could never) hosted an Olympic Games. The tropes are well known – history, culture, politics, and religion. These are also the four pillars of segregation that the Olympic Games was designed for in order to overcome.
I believe that when the Games go to the Middle East, no single nation can efficiently host them because of climate, population size, and political, social and economic stability. A Games in the Middle East necessarily must be “multi-national”; not just to work functionally, but to work emotionally.
The IOC have made visionary choices before – Tokyo 1964, Moscow 1980, Rio 2016. These decisions were not taken lightly, and a few were highly controversial. But, true to the spirit of their own ideology, the IOC chose to place the Games in nations that needed them the most.
In terms of human legacy, what better than the first Olympic Games in the Middle East that includes Israel? What better proof about the promise of the Olympic ideals than hosting the Games in a region long under-served by sport and long dominated by war?
Would the dates of a Middle East Games have to be adjusted due to weather conditions? Most assuredly – just like Melbourne 1956 and Sydney 2000. Would some commercial interests be inconvenienced by an autumn programming season? Yes. But, without sounding naive (which is hard to do regarding this subject), what is an Olympic Games in the Middle East, where Arabs and Jews partner to host humanity’s greatest example of respect and friendship, really worth? You tell me.
The UAE has emerged as a thought leader amongst Arab nations and I hope others will follow suit – it’s pragmatic and it’s a start. And given the millennia of enmity, it’s one worth taking.
So, how to seize this opportunity?
If I were part of the IOC leadership I would ask: “Where can we place the Olympic Games where they will do the most good and best serve humanity?”
The answer is obvious. It will be hard. It will take years. It will be complicated. But it will be worth it. And now we have a glimmer of hope of how it could happen.
Another proverb, this one Hebrew says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best is now.”
Plant the tree and ride the wind.