In the Middle East, diplomacy and politics often find their way onto the sports field. On Friday, that happened in a positive way as the national rugby teams of Israel and the United Arab Emirates competed in the first-ever Abraham Accord Friendship Cup in Dubai.
In the past, Israeli players often faced jeers, snubs, and even an occasional shoe throwing when they squared off in competition with their Egyptian, Saudi, and other Arab neighbors. The Palestinian cause that has united most of the Arab world against Israel for decades always simmers beneath the surface, and can boil over, especially on the field where passions run high.
Last year, the UAE and Israel signed a historic agreement to normalize relations between the two countries, as part of the US-led Abraham Accords. In Dubai on Friday, the nations’ teams played each other in two matches. In the first one, the more experienced Israeli team quickly won against the Emirati team, 33 – 0. The men then played a second match between the “blue” and the “white” team, mixing Israeli and Emirati players together. The “white” team beat the “blue” team, 50 to 40.
Attendance at the event was limited due to coronavirus restrictions. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin sent a video message that was broadcast on the field. Rivlin praised the “wonderful expression of the new spirit of people-to-people peace following the historic Abraham Accords.”
“While leaders may sign peace agreements, true peace requires people on both sides to build bonds of friendship and cooperation in every arena,” the Israeli President said, applauding the efforts of both teams.
In a display of that friendship and sportsmanship, the players of both teams shook hands and bumped fists, before heading off to a barbeque dinner celebration in the desert.