The Jewish Marathoner Who Will Miss the Olympics Rather Than Violate the Sanctity of Shabbat

November 2, 2020 | Akiva Shapiro
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In what seems like a real-life remake of the film Chariots of Fire—itself based on the true story of a devout Scottish Protestant sprinter who forewent an opportunity to compete in the 1924 Olympics because the qualifying race was held on Sunday—Beatie Deutsch, an Orthodox Jew and a mother of five, might miss her chance at the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. Akiva Shapiro writes:

Deutsch, now thirty, ran her first marathon in 2016, when she was a mother of four. A year later, she ran her second marathon while seven months pregnant. In 2018 Deutsch won a race for the first time and in 2019 she won the Israeli national marathon championships, with a finishing time of 2 hours, 42 minutes, 18 seconds—three minutes faster than the Olympic qualifying standard at the time. Along the way she has overcome severe anemia and dealt with celiac disease.

Deutsch doesn’t view her dedication to running as separate from her faith. “Our role in the world is to take the raw material God has given us and to use it to the fullest,” she says. “I have a talent for running.”

When the 2020 Olympics schedule was announced, the women’s marathon was scheduled for a Sunday, in line with historical practice. Later, . . . the event was moved to a Saturday. Deutsch requested that it be rescheduled for a different day. . . . So far her request has been denied. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has rejected any consideration of an athlete’s religious observance and restrictions in scheduling its event.

Numerous considerations affect Olympic scheduling, so religious observance can’t be determinative in every instance. But the IOC should take an athlete’s faith-based restrictions into consideration and accommodate them when feasible. The Olympic charter lauds the practice of sport as a human right, to be guaranteed “without discrimination of any kind,” including on the basis of religion. Finding a reasonable accommodation would make that promise real.

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