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March 21, 2023 1:19 pm

Legal Group Calls on International Olympic Committee to Intervene on Behalf of Disinvited Israeli Rugby Team


avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Members of Tel Aviv Heat lined up before their game against Black Lion as part of the 2022 Rugby Europe Super Cup finals. Photo: YouTube screenshot.

A legal advocacy organization has asked the International Olympic Committee for the second time to urgently take action and allow an Israeli rugby team to participate in a competition in South Africa that will begin on Friday after the South African Rugby Union (SARU) rescinded its invitation to the team.

“The disinvitation of Tel Aviv Heat appears to us to be a flagrant violation of Olympic Principles as well as the rules of both SA Rugby and World Rugby,” UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) Chief Executive Jonathan Turner told The Algemeiner. “We understand why the International Olympic Committee would not wish to intervene if World Rugby were actively dealing with the matter. However, World Rugby appear to be dragging their feet until the exclusion of Tel Aviv Heat becomes a fait accompli, so we hope that the IOC will make it clear that this is unacceptable.”

ULKFI sent an email to the IOC on Tuesday, asking it for a second time to get involved and make sure that the Israeli team Tel Aviv Heat can compete in the Mzansi Challenge, which begins in three days with teams from Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe and six South African provinces.

SARU announced on Feb. 3 that it withdrew its invitation to have Tel Aviv Heat compete 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, which was made with no prior notice to Tel Aviv Heat, came after supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel pressured SARU to disinvite Tel Aviv Heat from the Mzansi Challenge.

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UKLFI previously sent a letter the IOC asking them to intervene in the matter on Feb. 24 and Pâquerette Girard Zappelli, the IOC’s chief ethics and compliance officer, responded days later saying the sports organization could not get involved because the situation “falls under the jurisdiction of World Rugby, which we understand to be currently in the process of assessing the situation.”

But UKFLI noted in its email on Tuesday, in which Israel Rugby Union was also copied, that World Rugby “does not appear to have taken any concrete step so far to resolve the situation” despite receiving a formal complaint regarding the matter from UKFLI and the Israel Rugby Union, and a legal submission from a lawyer in South Africa.

“World Rugby has known about the flagrant violation of its own Regulations and of the Olympic Charter since at least February 7 … The competition in South Africa is due to start on March 24 and any further delay will make it impossible for Tel Aviv Heat to participate,” UKLFI noted in its recent email.

The legal group said IOC “can and should now intervene in accordance with its mission and role” as explained in the Olympic Charter, which states in part that the IOC will “act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement.” The charter also notes that the IOC promises to “take action to strengthen the unity of the Olympic Movement … to maintain and promote its political neutrality and to preserve the autonomy of sport,” and will “encourage and support the promotion of ethics and good governance in sport.”

The World Rugby Union was also contacted by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, which is representing Tel Aviv Heat, in regards to SARU’s decision to keep the team out of the tournament. The Israel Rugby Union submitted a formal complaint to World Rugby about SARU’s conduct and the Israel-based International Legal Forum reached out to SARU about its decision regarding Tel Aviv Heat.

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