JERUSALEM (March 22) - The national athletic team returns home today after Morocco barred it from competing in the World Cross Country Championship by refusing to grant team members visas.
Israeli officials bitterly denounced Morocco's refusal to grant the visas.
"International ties by means of sports are a basic element in the understanding that exists between nations," officials said. "Their conversion into a political issue certainly does not advance them. This is especially true when it comes to official sports events and world championships, which are predicated on the principle that every state has the right to participate if they so desire."
For most of the past week, the sportsmen and women waited in vain in Paris for the visas to be granted and finally were instructed to fly back to Israel after the Moroccan authorities confirmed that they would not be issued.
The athletes were notified on Friday that Morocco's decision to bar them was final, the officials said.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation called the Moroccan decision "very disappointing. When we accepted Morocco's candidacy to stage the games we received documents, one signed by the Moroccan Sports Ministry, saying the government would act with no restrictions [regarding visas]," IAAF head Primo Nebiolo told a news conference in Marrakech. "The Israeli athletes have had many difficulties getting visas and we are extremely disappointed."
Nebiolo said the IAAF had contacted the Federation of Moroccan Athletics to protest and called for visas to be issued to the Israelis immediately.
Most athletes arrived Thursday to prepare for the event, which began yesterday and ends today, in Bab Jdid on the outskirts of Marrakech at the foot of the snow-capped Atlas Mountains.