UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

South African Rugby accused of illegality for barring Israel team from competition

South Africa Rugby’s withdrawal of an invitation for Israel to compete in the 2023 Mzansi Challenge is illegal, according to UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI).

Mark Alexander, president of South Africa Rugby Union (SARU) was quoted in a press release as saying: “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”.

UKLFI has written to Mr Alexander at SARU, as well as to World Rugby, to point out that the decision to withdraw Israel’s invitation contradicts SA Rugby’s objects as set out in its Constitution and is therefore unlawful.  UKLFI also said that it is not too late to retract the decision and has urged SARU to do so without delay.

World Rugby has replied to UKLFI stating that it is “in discussions with the stakeholders directly involved”.

UKLFI understands that the participation of Tel Aviv Heat, Israel’s first professional rugby team,  had been planned for several months and that the invitation had been confirmed by SA Rugby’s Council on two previous occasions, before it was suddenly withdrawn on 3 February 2023 without prior notice.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI commented: “Although there have been suggestions that the invitation was cancelled on security grounds, this is belied by Mr Alexander’s statement and by the fact that the decision to cancel was evidently taken without any new risk assessment.  It  appears that the cancellation decision was taken on racist grounds, pandering to the bigotry of unidentified “stakeholder groups”.

SA Rugby’s Constitution states that its “ancillary objects include,

5.2         pursuing policies and programmes, at national and all other levels, aimed at redressing imbalances of the past and creating a genuinely non-racial, non-sexist, non-political and democratic dispensation for rugby in South Africa;

5.3         promote inclusivity and diversity within the game;

5.4         adopting and enacting such measures as will foster, promote, regulate and encourage the playing of rugby and provide facilities for rugby in South Africa … for all persons, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender, and to eliminate any discrimination and inequality amongst players and officials alike;

5.5         being a member or an affiliate of World Rugby …”

The cancellation of the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat contradicts each of these objects:

  • It obstructs the creation of a genuinely non-racial and non-political dispensation for rugby in South Africa by inserting racist and political considerations.

  • It undermines inclusivity and diversity within the game by excluding a team on racist grounds.

  • It restricts the playing of rugby and the provision of facilities for rugby by reference to race and promotes discrimination.

The cancellation of the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat also breaches the regulations of World Rugby under Regulation 18 which states that “acts or statements that are, or conduct that is, discriminatory by reason of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, colour or national or ethnic origin” are discriminatory, and constitute “misconduct”

UKLFI has also written to Alan Gilpin, CEO of World Rugby, setting out these concerns.