RIO DE JANEIRO: Paralympic authorities said Sunday they are suspicious about Algeria’s claim that its women’s goalball team missed a game against Israel in Rio purely due to travel delays.
The Algerians did not show up for opening matches against the US team on Friday or Israel on Saturday, leading to accusations in the Israeli media of a boycott by the Muslim majority country.
However, Algeria’s team spokesman insisted Sunday that there was nothing political about the absence, saying he was “astonished” by the accusation.
“I wonder why the team would boycott the Paralympics tournament that it has prepared so hard for and which the Algerian state has spent so much money on,” spokesman Abdelkader Kelfat told AFP.
Kelfat said the team had now arrived in Rio after a travel snarlup caused by a missed connection in Rome on September 5.
“This missed plane had a knock-on effect for the rest of the trip,” he said.
However, following an incident at the earlier Olympic Games in Rio where an Egyptian judoka broke protocol by refusing to shake hands with his Israeli opponent, the explanation was far from sufficient to satisfy the International Paralympic Committee.
Political protests are banned at the Olympics and Paralympics.
“The IPC will continue to investigate why more than 4,300 other athletes managed to arrive on time for these Games, yet the five players and two coaches that make up the Algerian women’s goalball team have suffered such trouble,” the governing body said in a statement.
IPC spokesman Craig Spence added: “Obviously there is lot of suspicion on why they are late.”
“That suspicion is that this may have been a political protest. We have to gather evidence to try to show that. At the moment, the evidence that we have is that they missed their flights and connections,” he said.
“If we are to take the most drastic actions — it will be to remove that team from the competition — we need concrete evidence. We have to do quite a lengthy investigation here.”
The US and Israeli teams were automatically awarded three points and 10-0 victories because of the canceled matches.
The Algerian women’s team is next due to play on Monday against Japan and then again on Tuesday against Brazil.
“Fingers crossed they can manage to travel from the (Athletes’) Village to the goalball venue in less than six days,” quipped Spence.
In goalball, blind or partially blind players wear eye shades to make conditions equal, then try to score goals with a ball containing bells to help the players orientate themselves. The crowd, meanwhile, is asked to remain as silent as possible.
The Paralympics has already been dogged by one international row — the banning of the entire Russian team after evidence of a state-sponsored doping program.
At the opening ceremony on September 7, a Belarussian official was expelled from the Paralympics after parading with a Russian flag in a show of support.