In the world of organized sports, religion and athletics can often collide. The Israeli female lacrosse team, for example, recently announced it would skip an international tournament rather than play on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Now Israel’s Davis Cup team has run into trouble by refusing to participate in a playoff match against Belgium on September 14 – the day of Yom Kippur, the holiest date in the Jewish calendar.
The Belgium Tennis Association originally refused Israel’s request for a postponement, until the International Tennis Federation (ITF) – which sponsors the Davis Cup – stepped in and forced a change.
“For a long time, the Belgian tennis union refused to recognize our basic need to avoid playing on Yom Kippur,” Israel Tennis Association Chairman Asi Touchmair wrote in a letter quoted by Israel’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper. “It was only after the ITF intervened” that the game was postponed.
However, the ITF demanded Team Israel pay a 10,000 Euro fine to the Belgians for the inconvenience of postponing the match.
“The high penalty deals a detrimental blow to our budget and professional program,” Touchmair explained in a statement on the association’s website. “As an institution representing the State of Israel and its values, we’re proud to stand against all those who refuse to recognize the importance of traditions for the Jewish people.”
It’s surprising to see that, in today’s day and age, after Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax sat out in the 1930s and 1965 World Series respectively, we still live in a society where religious belief isn’t respected without reprimand.
The Israelis, with any luck, will make the Belgians pay on the tennis court and push forward into the next round of the tournament – if, for nothing more than, to prove the fine levied against them was worthwhile.
I await September 15th, the new date for the match with glee.