RIO DE JANEIRO (CBSNewYork/AP) — The Israeli and Lebanese Olympics teams became involved in a heated argument about access to a bus to the opening ceremony of the Rio de Janeiro Games.
Both sides acknowledged Saturday that Israeli athletes were blocked from boarding a bus packed with the Lebanon team on Friday but they are at odds over the reasons for the actions of the head of the Lebanese delegation.
Israel portrayed it as a hostile act, maintaining that organizers had told them to use the bus to reach the Maracana Stadium.
“The organizing committee saw the blunt behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation and immediately arranged a different bus for us,” Gili Lusting, head of the Israeli delegation, said in a statement to The Associated Press. “The behavior of the head of the Lebanese delegation contradicts the Olympic Charter.”
Sailing coach Udi Gal said Lebanon chef de mission Salim Haj Nicola “physically blocked the entrance and wouldn’t let us on” after the driver opened the door.
“We wanted to stand up for ourselves but you can’t cause trouble,” Gal, a former Olympic sailor, told Israel’s Channel 2 television.
Haj Nicola insisted that he had the right to prevent another team’s athletes from joining them on the transport reserved for them.
“I asked the bus driver to close the door but the guide with the Israeli team prevented him from doing so,” Haj Nicola told Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar. “I then stood at the door of the bus to prevent the Israel team from entering and some of them tried to go in and pick up a fight.”
Haj Nicola told the AP that it was “only a small problem.”
“This problem is finished,” he said by telephone. “We are here only for sports.”
The Jerusalem Post reported the International Olympic Committee reprimanded the Lebanese Olympic delegation over the incident.
It is a decade since Israel was embroiled in a month-long war with Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. The 2006 conflict killed about 1,200 Lebanese, including hundreds of civilians, and about 160 Israelis, mostly soldiers. The border between the two countries has been largely quiet since then.
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