The Israel-based NGO International Legal Forum (ILF) sent a letter on Wednesday to South Africa Rugby in protest of the sporting body’s decision earlier this month to withdraw an invitation for the Tel Aviv Heat to participate in an upcoming tournament.
SA Rugby had announced that the Heat would join teams from Kenya, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Spain and six South African sides in the Mzansi Challenge beginning March 24, with the final set for June 17. But the following day, the body said that the Israeli team would not be welcome due to backlash from unidentified “stakeholders.”
“We can only deduce therefore that SA Rugby took the independent decision to cowardly cave in to extremist anti-Israel forces and groups promoting the racist Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel in South Africa,” said the letter.
It continued: “In a 12 June 2020 statement by World Rugby, the world governing body of which SA Rugby is a member, it was reiterated: ‘World Rugby and the international rugby family condemns discrimination of any kind, including racism, which has no place in our sport or wider society. Rugby is a sport for all with a spirit of inclusivity, unity and diversity at its heart.’
“We further draw your attention to the World Rugby Handbook, and specifically by-law 3(f), concerning the ‘Objective and Functions of World Rugby’: 3(f ) ‘To prevent 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,'” said the letter.
The ILF highlighted that SA Rugby’s own constitution, in Clauses 5.3 and 5.4, lists as a key objective the promotion of “inclusivity and diversity within the game.” Accordingly, the move to exclude the Israeli team constituted a “complete abrogation of the very values of inclusivity, unity and non-discrimination that the game of rugby is meant to represent, and the principles SA Rugby is obliged to legally uphold,'” according to the letter.
Given the tournament is still five weeks away, the ILF letter called on SA Rugby to live up to its own values and immediately reverse its decision, re-invite the Heat to the competition and issue an unequivocal statement condemning the discriminatory tactics of the BDS movement.
The ILF said that should its call not be heeded, it reserved the right to pursue all possible legal avenues to remedy the situation.
The Tel Aviv Heat is the first professional Israeli rugby union team. It competes in the Eastern Conference of the Rugby Europe Super Cup.