The website for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London turned heads earlier this week with a controversy about Israel's location and capital.
The debate over Israel's capital—which, according to The Guardian's style guide, is Tel Aviv, not Jerusalem—is certainly nothing new. On the other hand, it was confusing to see Israel listed as being part of Europe. But from a sporting perspective, the designation makes sense.
Israel was expelled from all Asian sports federations in the 1970s because of its Arab neighbors' refusal to recognize the Jewish State. Subsequently, Israeli teams began participating in European competitions, including the Euroleague for basketball and the Union of European Football Associations for soccer. Israel's participation in these competitions continues to this day, so the Olympic website's listing of Israel as part of Europe is understandable from this perspective.
While full recognition of Israel by its neighbors would be desirable, there are some benefits to Israel's current arrangement. For starters, there's no doubt that Israeli athletes are much safer competing in Europe than they would be in other Middle Eastern countries. In addition, however, it's worth noting that being counted as part of Europe gives Israel access to some of the most prestigious sporting events in the world.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, for example, is one of the most successful teams in the history of Euroleague basketball. The club has reached the Euroleague finals 14 teams, a feat that can only be claimed by one other team, Real Madrid. In addition, only three clubs have won more Euroleague titles: Real Madrid (8), CSKA Moscow and Panathaikos (6 each).
In addition, three Israeli clubs—Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Haifa—have participated in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League, one of the most prestigious sports tournaments in the world. As a result, some of the most famous clubs in the world have played in Israel, including Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Ajax of Amsterdam, and Italian side Juventus.
The flip side of this participation is the difficulty Israeli national teams face in qualifying for international competitions. The likelihood of Israel qualifying for the World Cup, for example, is low, as the country is one of 53 nations competing for 13 spots.
So, while the idea of Israel being located in Europe may turn your head, the designation by the Olympic website might not have been intended as a slight. What do you think?