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World hockey body reverses Israeli ban for upcoming tournament

The move comes after heavy criticism, including from the NHL.

The Israeli national ice-hockey team. Source: X.
The Israeli national ice-hockey team. Source: X.

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on Wednesday rescinded its decision made last week to ban Israeli athletes from competing in an upcoming tournament in Sofia, Bulgaria, due to alleged safety concerns.

“Following recent exchanges and extensive discussions with all involved stakeholders, the IIHF has received from the Ministry of Youth and Sport in Bulgaria and the related Organizing Committee the required confirmation for the safety and security support needed to allow the Israeli National Team to take part in the 2024 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division III, Group A (WM20IIIA), which will take place in Sofia in the period of 22-29 January 2024,” the IIHF said in a statement posted to its website.

The Olympic Committee of Israel and the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel (IHFI) also received notifications of the reversal.

The move came some eight hours before Israel’s appeal of the ban was set to be heard by the Court of Arbitration for Sport based in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Criticism mounted following the Jan. 10 announcement by the Zurich-based worldwide governing body for ice hockey to “restrict the Israeli National Team from participating in IIHF Championships until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured.”

The National Hockey League issued a statement that expressed “significant concerns” with the decision and said that it was seeking an explanation for the rationale behind it.

Mikhael Horowitz, an Israeli hockey player and CEO of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel, told The Canadian Jewish News that the move was “discriminatory and against the Olympic Charter and it will not be accepted by Israel.”

Paul Shindman, who founded the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel in 1989, told The Canadian Jewish News that he was outraged by the decision.

“To punish Israeli hockey players after their country was brutally attacked by terrorists is unfair and unjust. Israel’s sportsmen and women deserve the support and embrace of their friends in the international hockey world, not to be excluded. It makes them victims twice over,” he said.

Another voice joining the chorus of criticism over the move was two-time Stanley Cup winner with the New Jersey Devils Bobby Holík, a Czech-American former NHLer who is the head coach of the Israeli men’s national hockey team.

“This hockey situation presents a great opportunity for the league [the NHL] to make a stand and somehow confront the IIHF,” Holík told the New York Post. “To me, this is an extension of the Boycott Divest Sanction (BDS). It’s like, ‘Hey, we don’t want to be uncomfortable, we’ll just keep the Jews out of it.’”

Holík continued, “This is just people finding ways to show their antisemitism. Nobody stands up. Nobody says anything. So they keep doing it. I could ask the NHL and people in hockey to make a stand for Israel, but nobody wants to go that way. The NHL works closely, I believe, with the IIHF on the Olympic Games and other things. I think they should somehow put a little heat on the IIHF.”

In its statement reversing its decision, the IIHF wished the Israeli national team success in the Bulgarian tournament, saying that it will “keep monitoring the situation and reviewing its upcoming Championships on a case-by-case basis. In close collaboration with our stakeholders and local authorities, we will strive to find the necessary conditions and support to allow the Israeli teams to participate. Further decisions will be taken and notified in February 2024.”

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