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Mushir Salem Jawher was celebrating last week after he won the Tiberias marathon by two seconds.
But just two days later he was left distraught after the Bahrain Athletics Union found out that he had run in Israel, a country the kingdom has no diplomatic ties with. Jawher was the first Bahraini athlete to compete in a event in Israel.
“The union deeply regrets what the athlete has done,” the BAU said in a statement, adding that a committee of sport and government authorities decided to strike Jawher’s name off the sport union records and strip him of his Bahraini nationality.
Jawher only officially became a Bahraini citizen in March 2006 and soon won his first medal under his new nationality – a silver medal in the 5,000 metres at the Asian Games in Doha.
But he has now been left stateless as Kenya does not allow dual citizenship.
The 29-year-old athlete, who has been training and living in Bahrain for the Muharak Athletics Club while his wife and young daughter still live in Kenya, was stunned when he found out what had happened.
“I am in shock and I cannot comment on anything because I know nothing,” he told The Nation newspaper in Nairobi. “I was never told it was illegal to enter Israel. I really don’t know what to do.”
The Israeli Foreign Ministry has expressed their concern at the situation. “We are saddened by the fact that there are incidences where individuals come here to take part in cultural, economic or sports events and are punished because of that,” foreign ministry spokesman Mark Regev told TJ.
“Peace will happen because of extended dialogue and expanded communication between people. Those who act to stop such dialogue are acting against peace.”
Regev said there would be no problem for an Israeli athlete to take part in a marathon in Bahrain if he wished to.
There had only been jubilation when Jawher finished first out of 900 athletes in the marathon last Thursday.
After the race, which he won in a time of two hours 13 minutes and 12 seconds, he professed to be “very proud” to run in Israel and said he believed “there should be no restrictions” on where people can compete as “we are in the 21st century”.
At the post-race press conference, Israeli Athletics Association General Secretary Jack Cohen said he hoped that “the winner of the Tiberias marathon can be the best ambassador for the Tiberias marathon.”
And Jawher agreed, saying: “When I was coming here I didn’t know it was history to be in Israel. For me it was not a problem and I hope to see you here next year.”
However, it has now been revealed that the runner may not be able to compete in any international competitions for at least two years as, by taking Bahraini citizenship, he rejected his Kenyan citizenship.
Athletics Kenya chairman Isaiah Kiplagat said that Jawher’s case “has nothing to do with us”.
“We finished with Jahwer after he defected. At the moment he is a foreigner and will have to deal with the government before we can think of touching him,” he told Nairobi’s The Standard newspaper.
Jawher’s coach and agent Dorothee Paulmann said: “It’s very sad, and for him it is even more upsetting, because even if the Kenyan authorities take him back, he won’t be able to participate in contests for the next two years, according to Kenyan law, so he will lose two years of training and competing.
Now that Mushir is back in Kenya, there is a great confusion around this incident, but we hope a solution will arise soon.”Runner Left Stateless by Jeremy Last