UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

International Olympic Committee statement prohibits international competitions in countries that bar Israeli competitors

UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) welcomes an important statement by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) that international sports bodies must obtain written assurances from host countries that all eligible athletes and teams will be permitted to compete without discrimination.

The IOC’s statement was made after the World Squash Federation (WSF) cancelled the World Team Squash Championship in Malaysia just a few days before it was to take place, because Malaysia would not permit the Israeli team to enter the country.

The squash championship was cancelled after UKLFI warned the WSF that they would be in breach of UK anti-discrimination law if the tournament went ahead without the Israelis. The Israeli Squash Association also brought proceedings against the WSF in the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS).

The rules of the IOC and of most international sports bodies prohibit any form of discrimination or disrespect, but it had been common for Israeli competitors to be excluded from competitions held in some countries. UKLFI considered this unacceptable and successfully insisted on compliance with these rules in judo, paralympic swimming, and squash.

In a letter seen by the Jerusalem Post, the IOC has now urged international sports federations to be “extremely vigilant when allocating and organizing international sports competitions”.

IOC Sports Director, Kit McConnell, and Director of Olympic Solidarity, James Macleod, state in the letter that the heads of sports federations must make sure to receive written assurances from the governments hosting tournaments that all eligible athletes and teams will be able to compete and be treated equally without any political discrimination, and to make sure those assurances are implemented”.

They add that following these guidelines is part of “the fundamental principles which govern the Olympic Movement.”

The letter refers to the cancellation of the squash championship in Malaysia and a boxing championship in Serbia, which did not allow Kosovo’s team to compete. The letter states that the IOC plans to work with the National Olympic Committees of Malaysia and Serbia to come up with a long-term solution with the governments of these countries, “failing which such countries would, unfortunately, exclude themselves from the right to host international sports events until all the necessary assurances can be obtained and respected.”

Aviv Bushinsky, chair of the Israeli Squash Association, told UKLFI: This is the most important letter.  We all should be proud of it.”

Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, said: “We have changed the paradigm. The exclusion of Israelis from international sports competitions is no longer just regrettable; it is now unacceptable.”