In Latest Challenge Israeli Rugby Coach Calls for Formal Inquiry Into ‘Discriminatory’ Actions by South African Rugby Union

In Latest Challenge Israeli Rugby Coach Calls for Formal Inquiry Into ‘Discriminatory’ Actions by South African Rugby Union

Shiryn Ghermezian

Athletes from South Africa and the US competing in the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Photo: David Roberts via Wikimedia Commons.

An Israeli rugby coach submitted a formal complaint this week against the South African Rugby Union (SARU) in response to its decision to exclude the Tel Aviv Heat rugby team from a competition taking place next month in South Africa.

The complaint is the latest in a series of mounting legal challenges to the South African sporting body after the group withdrew its invitation to the Israeli team to participate in the Mzansi Challenge beginning on March 24.

“Rugby is a game divorced from politics,” wrote Joshua Schewitz, head coach of the Rishon LeZion Owls men’s rugby club. “The players, coaches, and supporters love the game due to the nature of the game, which is to play the game hard and then shake hands when it’s finished. Bringing politics into the game is contrary to rugby ethos.”

SARU announced on Feb. 3 that “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 move was announced by a slew of Israeli and South African Jewish advocacy organizations after SARU faced ample amount of pressure to disinvite the Israeli team from the competition from supporters of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Schewitz, who previously lived in South Africa and played rugby at the University of the Witwatersrand and with the Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg, wrote in his formal notification that “it appears that the decision to exclude the Tel Aviv Heat team was taken on political grounds, pandering to the bigotry of unidentified ‘stakeholder groups.’”

He is asking SARU to launch a formal enquiry into the actions taken against Tel Aviv Heat or to refer it to a judicial officer or committee for adjudication.

Schewitz further noted that SARU’s actions breach the regulations of the World Rugby governing body, which also apply to SARU. “The cancellation of the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat was plainly discriminatory by reason of national or ethnic origin” and should therefore be classified as “misconduct,” he argued.

The coach also pointed out that “one of the adverse consequences of inserting illegitimate political considerations” into the sport of rugby “has been to harm the careers of several young South African players, who are developing their talents at Tel Aviv Heat and will be denied the opportunity of playing in this competition if the cancellation decision is not rapidly revoked.”

Schewitz received assistance in preparing the notification from the South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI). SAFI recently submitted to SARU paperwork asking for information about the meetings with stakeholders who the rugby club said they consulted before the decision to axe Tel Aviv Heat was announced. UKLFI separately wrote to SARU’s president and World Rugby about the move against Tel Aviv Heat, arguing that the decision violates SARU’s constitution.

“Sports bodies have rules preventing discrimination and political interference,” said UKLFI’s Chief Executive Jonathan Turner in a released statement. “It is in the interest of all engaged in sport that these rules are complied with. We welcome the public-spirited intervention of Mr Schewitz seeking to enforce them and hope that this will be achieved in time for Tel Aviv Heat to play in this competition.”

Earlier in February a New Zealand-based lawyer filed a legal complaint with the World Rugby Council also in regards to SARU’s decision against Tel Aviv Heat.

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