Monday, May 27, 2024

Irish women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with Israel

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Ireland’s women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with their Israeli opponents on Thursday, amid outrage over accusations of antisemitism, as the two countries faced off at a EuroBasket qualifier.

Minutes before the match was set to start, Basketball Ireland said on social media that its players had decided to do away with the usual pre-match courtesies, linking the decision to earlier comments made by Israeli player Dor Saar.

In an interview published on Tuesday by the Israeli Basketball Association, Saar addressed the upcoming match with Ireland. “It’s known that they are quite antisemitic and it’s no secret, and maybe that’s why a strong game is expected,” she said. “We talk about it among ourselves. We know they don’t love us and we will leave everything on the field always and in this game especially.”

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Basketball Ireland described the comments as “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate”, and said it had reported them to the body that governs basketball in Europe.

“Basketball Ireland informed Fiba Europe yesterday that as a direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff – including inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of antisemitism, published on official Israeli federation channels – that our players will not be partaking in traditional pre-match arrangements with our upcoming opponents,” it said.

It added that it fully supported the players’ decision to shun courtesies such as the exchanging of gifts and handshakes before and after Thursday’s game. The players also lined up for the national anthem by their bench, rather than centre court.

In recent weeks the women’s team had been wrestling with calls to boycott the match, which had been originally slated to be played in Israel in November but was postponed and moved to Riga after Basketball Ireland requested a neutral venue. Several high-profile sporting figures had backed the call, with pressure on the players ramping up after the Israel Basketball Association shared photos from a practice session that included a visit by soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force.

The players before the match in Riga. Photograph: Oksana Dzadan/Sportsfile/Getty Images

Basketball Ireland said late last month that it had raised “strong concerns” about the fixtures with Israel to Fiba Europe and that it had floated the possibility of forfeiting the games. The organisation said it had been told, however, that it could face up to €180,000 in fines and face expulsion from EuroBasket this year and in 2027 for doing so.

The head of Basketball Ireland, John Feehan, said the penalties would be a ruinous blow to the team. “Not only would we be out of international competition for the next five years but it would probably take us another five years to get back to where we are now, so in real terms we’d lose a generation of players,” he told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTÉ.

Several players, however, opted not to travel to Riga for Thursday’s encounter. Israel won the match, which was played behind closed doors amid security concerns, beating Ireland 87-57.

Following the loss, Ireland’s head coach, James Weldon, praised his players over their “incredible maturity in how they handled a very pressured week”.

He sought to sidestep questions over the pre-match formalities. “I would prefer to be talking about basketball and not this, we didn’t engage in the pre-match activities as a direct result of those unwarranted and unacceptable comments from the Israeli camp about our players,” he said in a statement. “It was hugely disappointing, we came here for a game of basketball, we wanted to win, but didn’t come out on the right side of the result on this occasion.”

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