Editor’s Note: Our readers responded strongly to this story when it originally ran; we’re reposting it here in case you missed it.
The EuroBasket 2025 qualifier between Ireland and Israel witnessed a pregame controversy in the capital of Latvia, Riga.
Amid the fallout from leftist protests against Israel’s war against the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza, the Irish women’s basketball team opted not to participate in traditional pregame rituals.
But the game’s result showed who the real winners were.
Prior to the Feb. 8 match, Basketball Ireland, the sport’s governing body in the country, issued a statement notifying the International Basketball Federation (known by its French acronym FIBA) of its intention to refrain from customary pregame sportsmanship gestures with the Israeli team.
Specifically, the Irish players would not participate in handshakes or gift exchanges with their Israeli counterparts before or after the game, according to Fox News.
Additionally, Ireland lined up along the sideline for its national anthem rather than gathering with Israel’s team at center court.
The Irish team cited comments made by an Israeli player, Dor Saar, in an official Israeli Basketball Association interview as the reason for the open insult to the Israeli team.
Saar, who made her debut with the national team on Feb. 8, had been quoted as saying, “It’s known that [the Irish] are quite anti-Semitic, and it’s no secret, and maybe that’s why a strong game is expected.”
“We have to show that we’re better than them and win. We talk about it among ourselves. We know they don’t love us, and we will leave everything on the field always, and in this game especially,” she added, according to Fox News.
Basketball Ireland notified FIBA Europe that the Irish team foregoing standard pregame traditions with Israel was a “direct result” of Saar’s “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of anti-Semitism.”
Statement ahead of today's FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2025 Qualifier. pic.twitter.com/iz6s88febf
— Basketball Ireland (@BballIrl) February 8, 2024
But Saar’s comments were not made in a vacuum.
The truth is that Basketball Ireland had tried to get the team out of playing against Israel as a protest against its war of self-defense, according to Fox News, but FIBA Europe had insisted the match proceed.
Basketball Ireland had been facing a strong movement to boycott the game against Israel after the Israeli team was photographed meeting with Israel Defense Forces officers at a training session in Tel Aviv, according to the BBC.
Basketball Ireland is facing growing calls for it to boycott a match against Israel in the upcoming FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2025 Qualifier after the Israeli women’s team met with armed members of the Israeli forces at a training session in Tel Aviv pic.twitter.com/kWaG5fOx8N
— TRT World (@trtworld) February 8, 2024
Palestinian solidarity groups called for Ireland to scrap the game, with hundreds of Irish athletes signing a letter urging the same, according to RTE, Ireland’s national public service media organization.
Basketball Ireland CEO John Feehan explained that they “did actually ask if there was an alternative to playing this game and all the rest of it,” according to Fox News, but there wasn’t — at least not one the Irish team was willing to accept.
Feehan said he was warned that the women’s national team boycotting its EuroBasket qualifier against Israel would “destroy our women’s international game for the next ten years,” RTE reported.
He said failure to compete would draw steep fines. Ireland would still be barred from FIBA tournaments for five years and relegated to the “wilderness” for a decade, RTE reported.
“What’s happening in Gaza is dreadful, we all acknowledge that. The issue is whether this is going to make a difference to the Israeli government and, quite frankly, we don’t believe this would make a blind bit of difference,” Feehan said, according to RTE.
In other words, the only reason Ireland agreed to play Israel — a country fighting for its existence after the Oct. 7 terrorist massacre — was because it did not want to pay the fines and face the sanctions.
Additionally, five Irish players chose not to play against Israel in the game in Latvia, according to the Irish Mail on Sunday.
Former national team player Rebecca O’Keefe told RTE, “By [authorities] not taking a firm stand, it’s up to the players to take a stand.”
Additionally, O’Keefe made a statement reposted by the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign that read, “Ireland has an opportunity here to condemn and reject Israel’s violent rule through a boycott of this sporting fixture. It will be a strong message and a clear statement of solidarity with Palestinians.”
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It appears Saar’s comments about anti-Semitism were not as “inaccurate” as Basketball Ireland made them out to be.
Rather than outrage over the accusation of anti-Semitism, one could interpret Ireland’s decision not to participate in the handshake and other pregame events as yet another act of blatant anti-Semitism cloaked in self-righteous indignation.
After the game, Israel head coach Sharon Drucker expressed his shock at Basketball Ireland’s behavior, saying, “I’ve been in sports for many years, I’ve never seen such things, in my life.”
But in sports, the final judgment takes place on the floor, rink or court.
Some readers may remember the elation of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” when the underdog U.S. Olympic ice hockey team stunned the Soviets en route to gold.
For all the off-court controversy, Israel and Ireland still had to compete in their EuroBasket qualifier.
There, Israel left no doubt who the better team was on this day.
After everything was said and done, Israel won the game 87-57.
Losers on and off the field 👎🏻
Oh, and then they also lost to Israel 57-87! pic.twitter.com/RofqT8f20B
— Arsen Ostrovsky 🎗️ (@Ostrov_A) February 9, 2024
And one can imagine that the victory must have been just a little bit sweeter.
As Drucker said, according to CNN, “There was no game where you don’t give concessions, shake hands, congratulate each other.”
“They took a step in an absolute way, and they received their punishment today,” he said.
And that said it all.
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