UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Urgent appeal to IOC to allow Israeli team to play in South African tournament

With only three days to go before an international rugby tournament in South Africa, UKLFI has asked the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to intervene urgently, to ensure that an Israeli team can participate.

On 3 February 2023 the South Africa Rugby Union (“SA Rugby”) withdrew an invitation to the Tel Aviv Heat rugby team to play in its Mzansi Challenge tournament. Tel Aviv Heat’s participation had been planned for several months and the invitation had been confirmed by SA Rugby’s Executive Council on two previous occasions, before it was suddenly withdrawn without prior notice.

UKLFI wrote today (21 March 2023) to Ms Girard Zappelli, IOC Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer, pointing out that World Rugby (the international federation for rugby union) has known about the flagrant violation of its own regulations and the Olympic Charter since at least 7 February 2023. This was when Mr Ian Dunwoodie, a New Zealand lawyer, notified World Rugby about the cancellation of Tel Aviv Heat’s invitation to play in the tournament and the reasons why it violated World Rugby’s regulations.  Since then World Rugby has received a further notification from UK Lawyers for Israel and a formal complaint by the Israel Rugby Union.

The IOC had previously declined to intervene on 27 February on the ground that World Rugby was assessing the position.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI commented: “It appears that the cancellation of Tel Aviv Heat’s invitation by SA Rugby is a flagrant violation of Olympic Principles as well as the rules of both SA Rugby and World Rugby. We understand why the International Olympic Committee would not wish to intervene if World Rugby were actively dealing with the matter. However, World Rugby appear to be dragging their feet until the exclusion of Tel Aviv Heat becomes a fait accompli.  Any further delay will make it impossible for Tel Aviv Heat to participate. We hope that the IOC will make it clear that this is unacceptable.”

UKLFI has pointed out to the IOC that in these circumstances the IOC can and should now intervene in accordance with its mission and role as set out in Article 2 of the Olympic Charter, in particular:

“1 to encourage and support the promotion of ethics and good governance in sport … ;

2 to encourage and support the organisation, development and coordination of sport and sports competitions; …

4 to cooperate with the competent public or private organisations and authorities in the endeavour to place sport at the service of humanity and thereby to promote peace;

5 to take action to strengthen the unity of the Olympic Movement, to protect its independence, to maintain and promote its political neutrality and to preserve the autonomy of sport;

6 to act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement; …

11 to oppose any political … abuse of sport and athletes; …

13 to encourage and support the development of sport for all”.