Israeli beach volleyball duo breaks boundaries in historic Qatar visit
An Israeli beach volleyball duo is returning home after becoming the first Israeli representative of the sport to compete in an Arab country with no diplomatic ties with Israel.
Sean Faiga and Ariel Hilma will return to Israel on Tuesday, a day after winning their first open qualifying match in Qatar which they hope will help them secure a spot in this year's Olympics in Brazil.
It took two months for the men and their coaches to get the visas they needed, and the paperwork finally came through on the Friday before the competition.
Israel Volleyball Association CEO Yaniv Newman said the team were being well treated by their Qatari hosts and had security details from local forces and Israeli guards, local radio reported.
"The attitude of the locals was excellent and we felt safe throughout our stay in Doha," he said on the Association’s website.
Elad Simon, the IVA’s head of beach volleyball, told the Times of Israel that the players were not paying attention to the political interest in their story, but rather concentrating on the games.
“Our players want to compete in any tournament they can enter,” Simon said. “We are into sports, not politics,” he said.
Israeli athletes from other sports have previously competed in Qatar, which will be hosting the 2022 Football World Cup.
Tennis player Shahar Peer became the first athlete to compete their in 2008, and returned in 2012.
In 2013 and 2014, Qatar hosted an Israeli swim team. The first visit ended in controversy as Qatar displayed a white flag in place of the Israeli one, but in 2014 the Gulf state displayed the official flag at the tournament.