UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

BDS Failing in International Sport

Further progress is being made to eliminate discrimination against Israelis in international competitions.

Recent developments include the brave refusal of 16-year old Iranian junior chess champion, Alireza Firouzja, to play for Iran due to this country’s ban on competing against Israelis. The world’s second-highest rated junior chess player has decided to change his nationality so that he can compete in a championship in Russia in which Israeli players will be participating.

A few days earlier, Iranian Grandmasters Amin Tabatabaei and Parham Maghsoodloo defied the Iranian authorities to play (and defeat) Israeli Master Ido Gorshtein in the Sunway Sitges Night Blitz, with Tabatabaei going on to win the first prize. Gorshtein’s defeats were a win for Israel, fair play and the game of chess.

UKLFI has just written to the International Fencing Federation (FIE) pressing it to take disciplinary action against Kuwaiti fencer, Mohammed Al-Fadhli, who withdrew from the FIE Tournoi Satellite competition in Amsterdam rather than face his Israeli opponent, Konstantin Bonfeld.

In October 2019 the International Judo Federation (IJF) confirmed the suspension of the Iran Judo Federation from all judo competitions because it pressurised Iranian judokas not to fight Israelis. The suspension is to remain in place “until the Iran Judo Federation gives strong guarantees and prove that they will respect the IJF Statutes and accept that their athletes fight against Israeli athletes”.

This ruling followed the resignation from the Iranian team of Saeid Mollaei, 2018 World Champion, who accused the Iran Federation of ordering him to lose matches and withdraw from competitions so as not to face Israelis.

Until recently many Muslim countries would not allow Israelis to compete in their countries and prevented their nationals from playing against Israelis.

The wall began to crumble after we complained to the IJF and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that Israeli judokas were permitted to compete in the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam tournament only as members of the IJF, with no national anthem or flag or mention of Israel in the medals table.

Letters prepared by UKLFI Director, Sam Green, demonstrated in meticulous detail how this treatment breached numerous rules of both the IJF and the IOC. By elevating the complaint to the IOC, we ensured that the IJF would be answerable if it failed to ensure fair and equal treatment of competitors in this Olympic sport.

Following this correspondence, the IJF issued a statement announcing its suspension of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam unless Abu Dhabi ensured free and equal participation of all nations. Abu Dhabi gave the requested guarantees and the 2018 Abu Dhabi Grand Slam went ahead. When Israeli judokas Sagi Muki and Peter Paltchik won gold medals, Hatikvah was played and the Israeli flag flew above the Abu Dhabi stadium in the presence of Israeli sports minister Miri Regev.

Hatikvah was played again in Abu Dhabi in November 2019 when Israeli Alon Leviev won gold in the junior category of the Ju-jujitsu world championship.

UKLFI achieved another result when our complaint to the World Badminton Federation (WBF), based in Kuala Lumpur, led to a six-month suspension of the Saudi coach and two Saudi players who had refused to play with an Israeli contestant at the 2018 Forza Junior International in Dnipro, Ukraine. Again, Sam Green had detailed the breaches of the rules of the WBF and the Saudi Badminton Committee.

When Malaysia said that it would not admit Israeli competitors to the 2019 World Paralympic Swimming Championship to be held in that country, the International Paralympic Committee (IPC) moved it to London. A number of organisations, including UKLFI, had contacted the IPC, but our submission pointed out the breaches of IPC’s rules, its contractual obligations and the law of Germany where it has its seat.

UKLFI had played a central role in defeating the Palestinian attempt to have the Israeli Football Association suspended from FIFA, which was definitively rejected by the FIFA Council in October 2017.  Jibril Rajoub, President of the Palestinian Football Association, subsequently received a 12-month match suspension and a fine of CHF 20,000 from FIFA for calling on football fans to target the Argentinian Football Association and burn jerseys and pictures of Lionel Messi before a scheduled friendly football match between Argentina and Israel. Rajoub’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was dismissed.