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February 22, 2023 9:30 am

Israel Rugby Union Threatens Legal Action Against South African Union About Its BDS Snub


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

A South African flag. Photo: Achim Raschka via Wikimedia Commons.

The Israel Rugby Union (IRU) and Israel’s national rugby team the Tel Aviv Heat (TAH) said the South African Rugby Union (SARU) has until Wednesday to provide information about its decision to disinvite the Israeli team from an upcoming competition and also reinstate the Israeli team before it takes legal action. 

“There are criteria that prohibit incidents of this nature to take hold in the sport,” Tel Aviv Heat said in a released statement on Tuesday. “Based on this, IRU and TAH have consulted both local and international lawyers and has since formally requested the relevant documentation needed in terms of disclosing the record of the decision taken by SARU. TAH are further contemplating high-court proceedings for damages and given SARU until Wednesday to be re-instated.”

SARU said on Feb. 3 that it rescinded its invitation to have Tel Aviv Heat participate in the Mzansi Challenge, explaining that it “listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division.” The announcement was made after SARU faced ample amount of pressure from activists associated with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, who said that SARU “will have blood on its hands” if it allowed the “apartheid Israeli team” to compete in the Mzansi Challenge, which starts March 24 with teams from Kenya, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and six South African provinces. BDS supporters called the invitation an “overtly racist move.”

IRU and TAH argued that the snub against the Israeli team goes against SARU’s mandate as well as the handbook of the World Rugby governing body, which prohibits “discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or groups of people on
account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason.”

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“Our players, the bulk of which are South Africans of all races and religions, are now currently lacking earning opportunities,” said Tel Aviv Heat Director of Rugby Kevin Musikanth, who was born in South Africa. The team’s CEO Pete Sickle added that he hopes SARU will share the documentation being requested and “proceed in the manner that is required by both the law and the spirit in which international sport is intended to be played.”

Others who have contacted SARU about its actions against Tel Aviv Heat include the Israel-based International Legal Forum, the Jewish group South African Friends of Israel and the British group UK Lawyers for Israel. Earlier in February a New Zealand-based lawyer filed a legal complaint with World Rugby Council in regards to SARU’s move to axe Tel Aviv Heat from the Mzansi Challenge.

Relations between Israel and South Africa have remained strained over the years. In 2021, South Africa’s Department of Sport, Art and Culture said it would not support Miss South Africa Lalela Mswane for wanting to compete in the Miss Universe competition, which took place that year in Eilat, Israel. The government, as well as supporters of the BDS movement, even tried to convince Mswane not to compete in the pageant and she also faced death threats for participating in the competition, in which she was the second-runner up.

More recently, Sharon Bar-Li, Israel’s foreign ministry deputy director general for Africa, was escorted out of the African Union summit that took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Saturday. South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, praised the move while also comparing Israel to an “apartheid state.”

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