An article by BBC Sport titled “Rio Olympics 2016: Egyptian judoka Islam El Shehaby sent home for handshake snub” appeared on the BBC News website’s homepage and Middle East page on August 15th. Readers of the report were told that:
“The Egyptian had come under pressure from some conservative voices in his homeland to withdraw from the bout.”
The same euphemistic statement appeared three days earlier in BBC Sport’s previous article on the same topic (in which, at the time of writing, the Israeli judoka’s name has still not been corrected).
Other media outlets were less coy about informing their audiences of the ideologies behind the pressure on the Egyptian judoka to withdraw from the competition against an Israeli.
“The 32-year-old Egyptian, a world championship medalist in 2010, had faced pressure on social media and from hardline Islamist groups in his homeland to withdraw from the fight.”
“The athlete, who is an ultraconservative Salafi, had come under pressure from hardline Islamists on social media and from television pundits not to participate in the match.
“You will shame Islam. If you lose, you will shame an entire nation and yourself,” one comment read.”
“Islam El Shehaby, an ultraconservative Salafi Muslim, had come under pressure before the games from Islamist-leaning and nationalist voices in Egypt to withdraw from the first-round heavyweight bout against Or Sasson. […]
On Thursday, Moutaz Matar, a TV host of the Islamist-leaning network Al-Sharq, had urged El Shehaby to withdraw.
“My son, watch out. Don’t be fooled, or fool yourself, thinking you will play with the Israeli athlete to defeat him and make Egypt happy,” he said. “Egypt will cry; Egypt will be sad and you will be seen as a traitor and a normalizer in the eyes of your people.””
The Oxford dictionary defines ‘conservative’ as:
“Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values”.
Clearly the BBC’s portrayal of “conservative voices” is not conducive to full audience understanding of the story. It would of course be very surprising to see the BBC describe anyone urging an athlete not to compete against a gay or black opponent as “conservative” and such bigotry portrayed as a ‘traditional value’.
But – not for the first time – we see that the BBC is reluctant to explain discriminatory Islamist ideology to its audiences in clear and precise language.