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Israel exclusion from South Africa rugby tournament is not discrimination, says World Rugby

April 28, 2023 at 4:33 pm

Lee Barron of Leinster during the United Rugby Championship match between Vodacom Bulls and Leinster at Loftus Versfeld Stadium in Pretoria, South Africa [Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images]

Rugby’s global governing body, World Rugby, has announced that the South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) decision to exclude the Israeli rugby team from the international competitions was not discriminatory move.

In response, the CEO of the Israeli team, Pete Sickle, rejected the claims that the decision was due to security threats, as he told JTA: “We expected World Rugby to take a closer look at the events leading up to the withdrawal of the invitation.”

“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 Tel Aviv Heat rugby team was scheduled to compete in the regional Mzanzi Challenge tournament, which began 24 March, Rugby365 reported.

However, the South African BDS Coalition were outraged by the invitation and called out SARU to disinvite the “apartheid” team, which it claimed was “embarrassing post-apartheid South Africa through this overtly racist move and exposing its true colours.”

In a statement, the South African BDS Coalition said, “It is incredulous that a post-apartheid South African rugby organisation chooses to invite a team from a settler colonial state that continues to occupy Palestinian land, and uphold a brutal system of apartheid against Palestinians.”

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“Anger with SARUS’s decision is building across the world. SARU is embarrassing post-apartheid South Africa through this overtly racist move and exposing its true colours – those of the old South African flag. If this apartheid Israeli team comes to play in South Africa, SARU will have blood on its hands,” the statement added.

Following the concerns raised by the South African BDS, Mark Alexander, president of SARU, said in a statement, “We have 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, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC.”

The decision caused the Israel Rugby Union (IRU) to appeal and accuse SARU of discrimination; however, following an investigation into the charges, World Rugby in a letter to SARU and IRU, said it was satisfied with SARU’s explanation.

For the past 27 years, ties between the Palestinians and South Africa have developed and remained strong, with Pretoria often providing support for the Palestinian cause and condemning Israeli transgressions on the world stage. Last year, South Africa urged the international community to hold Israel accountable for the inhumane conditions that Palestinians have been subjected to, and in 2021 it condemned the African Union’s (AU) granting of observer status to Tel Aviv, a move which was reversed last year.