UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Squash Championship Cancelled after Malaysia bans Israeli team

The World Squash Federation has cancelled a tournament that was due to take place in Malaysia on 7-12 December because the Israeli team had been banned from entering Malaysia.

This follows a letter sent by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) to the World Squash Federation (WSF) pointing out that they would be in breach of UK anti-discrimination law if the tournament were to go ahead without the Israelis.

The WSF, based in the UK, had insisted that the discrimination against Israel was unforeseen and unforeseeable, but it was not. The Malaysian government has a history of hostility to Israel and Malaysia does not allow Israelis to enter the country.

As soon as the venue was chosen in May 2021 the Israel Squash Federation asked WSF for confirmation they would be given visas. With days to go these had still been denied.

However, on 29 November WSF confirmed that the WSF Men’s World Team Championships had been cancelled.

Zena Wooldridge, president of WSF said in her letter: “I would also like to reassure the Israeli Squash Federation (ISA) that WSF has already put in place measures to prevent this kind of situation reoccurring. The attribution of any future WSF Championship will require the formal written approval of the host nation’s government that all participants who are eligible to compete will be allowed to do so.”

Ms Woolridge said that the WSF had worked tirelessly to try to ensure the participation of the Israeli team, but had now run out of time, and had therefore acknowledged that they must cancel the event.

UKLFI had written to the president and CEO of the WSF warning that both the decision to hold the Championship in Malaysia, without requiring government guarantees ensuring free and equal participation of all members, and the further decision to proceed with the Championship, even though Israelis will not be permitted to enter that country, appeared to constitute serious violations of UK law as well as of the Articles and Rules of the WSF.

UKLFI also wrote to heads of participating squash federations, urging them to show solidarity with the Israeli team.

The ISA appealed to the Court of Arbitration in Sport (CAS) on the basis that conducting the tournament with the Israeli team barred from competing would breach the WSF’s rules and the rules of the International Olympic Committee incorporated into them.

UKLFI explained in its letter to the WSF that it was obliged under the UK Equality Act 2010 not to discriminate against a member or an associate on grounds of nationality, by denying that member or associate access to a benefit, facility or service or subjecting them to any other detriment.

The WSF appeared to have breached these prohibitions by arranging for the tournament to proceed in Malaysia without the participation of the Israelis.

The WSF may also have contravened prohibitions of discrimination in the provision of services and the exercise of its public function in the Equality Act.

Substantial claims for compensation, including aggravated and exemplary damages, could also have been made by Israeli players and/or the ISA against the WSF for these violations.  The matter could also have been referred to the Equality and Human Rights Commission for regulatory investigation and enforcement.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI commented: “We urged the WSF to cancel the Championship and they have now done so.  We are pleased that the WSF has accepted its legal as well as moral obligations not to accept the racism of the Malaysian authorities, and that it will in future require host nations’ governments to confirm that all eligible competitors will be permitted to participate.”

Aviv Bushinsky, chairman of ISA said: “As lovers of sports in general and squash in particular, we know how difficult it is to cancel a tournament.  There is nothing more frustrating for a professional athlete than to be told that he or she cannot compete after years of training and preparation, yet I believe that this incident will prevent any similar discrimination in the future.”

UKLFI is a voluntary association of lawyers who invoke laws to counter boycotts and other actions targeting Israelis. It has a record of successes ensuring compliance with the rights of Israelis to participate in international sporting competitions without discrimination or disrespect.

  • In October 2017, the FIFA Council rejected a call by the Palestinian Football Association (PFA) to suspend the Israeli Football Association. UKLFI had made a significant contribution to this result by showing that the PFA’s claim was based on a misinterpretation of FIFA’s Statute contrary to decisions of the CAS.

  • On 20 July 2018 the International Judo Federation (IJF) announced the suspension of the Abu Dhabi Grand Slam Tournament until government guarantees were given to ensure free and equal participation of all nations. The guarantee was given and the tournament went ahead in 2018 and subsequent years with full participation of Israeli judokas as Israelis. This followed UKLFI’s intervention after Israeli judokas could only participate in the 2017 tournament as members of the IJF.

  • In October 2018, Saudi Arabian badminton players who refused to play against an Israeli and their coach were banned for 6 months after UKLFI drew the violations to the attention of the Badminton World Federation.

  • In January 2019, the World Para-Swimming Championship was removed from Malaysia by the International Paralympic Committee because Malaysia would not admit Israeli competitors; the championship was subsequently held in the UK