Irish Women’s Basketball Team Boycotts to shake hands with Israel

The Irish women’s basketball team made headlines when they chose not to participate in the customary pre-match handshakes with their Israeli counterparts, citing recent accusations of antisemitism. Tensions arose after Israeli player Dor Saar made inflammatory remarks about the Irish team’s alleged antisemitism in an interview ahead of the EuroBasket qualifier match.

Basketball Ireland, responding swiftly, denounced Saar’s comments as “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate” and reported them to the European basketball governing body, Fiba Europe. Consequently, the Irish team decided to forgo the traditional pre-match rituals, including the exchange of gifts and handshakes, in protest. They also chose to stand for their national anthem by their bench rather than center court.

The decision to boycott the pre-match formalities came amidst ongoing debates within the Irish team about whether to boycott the match altogether. Pressure intensified after the game was moved to a neutral venue in Riga, Latvia, due to Basketball Ireland’s request. Additionally, concerns were raised following the sharing of photos from an Israeli practice session, which included soldiers from the Israeli Defence Force.

Despite considering forfeiting the games, Basketball Ireland was warned of severe penalties, including hefty fines and potential expulsion from EuroBasket. John Feehan, the head of Basketball Ireland, expressed concerns over the repercussions, emphasizing the impact on the team’s future.

The match, played behind closed doors due to security concerns, ended with Israel securing a victory. Ireland’s head coach, James Weldon, praised his team’s resilience amid the pressure but preferred to focus on basketball rather than the controversy surrounding the pre-match activities. He lamented the situation and expressed disappointment over the result, emphasizing the team’s original intent to compete in good faith.