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Omission of Israeli team

World Rugby backs South Africa

The inquiry by the governing body followed South Africa Rugby's announcement in February that the Heat was no longer invited to a March 24 competition.

Gabriel Ibitoye of the Tel-Aviv Heat during the Rugby Europe Super Cup on Oct. 16, 2021 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images via JTA
Gabriel Ibitoye of the Tel-Aviv Heat during the Rugby Europe Super Cup on Oct. 16, 2021 in Tbilisi, Georgia. Photo: Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images via JTA

Rugby’s global governing body has determined that the South African Rugby Union’s decision to disinvite an Israeli team from an international competition in March was not discriminatory.

But the CEO of the Israeli team isn’t buying the argument that the cancellation had to do with security threats, as South Africa argued and World Rugby concluded.

“We expected World Rugby to take a closer look at the events leading up to the withdrawal of the invitation,” said Tel Aviv Heat CEO Pete Sickle.

“We still have not seen tangible evidence of credible and significant threats to public safety. We haven’t seen any evidence of SARU or South African security forces analysing those threats before making this decision.”

The inquiry by the governing body followed South Africa Rugby’s announcement in February that the Heat was no longer invited to a March 24 competition. The decision came after pressure from the South African BDS Coalition, an affiliate of the Palestinian BDS National Committee that promotes the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

At the time, South Africa Rugby’s CEO said that after listening to “the opinions of important stakeholder groups” the decision had been made to disinvite Tel Aviv “to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby.”

Following an investigation into the Israel Rugby Union’s charges of discrimination, World Rugby ruled the decision had instead been made due to threats of violence, according to a letter obtained by JTA.

In the letter, World Rugby pointed to the public reaction of inviting an Israeli team to South Africa in the first place – including a single Facebook post warning of a “blood bath” at the tournament, and a statement by the BDS coalition claiming that the South Africa Rugby Union would “have blood on its hands” if the Heat participated.

Jewish groups in South Africa criticised World Rugby’s ruling, according to the South African Jewish Report.

A spokesperson for South African Friends of Israel said the South Africa Rugby Union “bent the knee to appease political extremists in South Africa who threatened to harm and incite violence should an Israeli team participate in the sport”.

Benji Shulman, the director of public policy at the South African Zionist Federation, called the decision “an attack on our sportsmen and women in South Africa”.

JTA

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