How did the Irish women’s basketball team become embroiled in controversy over Israel?

Basketball Ireland saying it could not ‘guarantee the safety of the Israeli team’ in Dublin blew up into a major diplomatic incident

What was it all about?

The Irish women’s basketball team was drawn in a qualifying group with Israel, France and Latvia for the 2025 European Championships, with the four nations scheduled to play each other home and away. But Ireland’s trip to Israel last November was postponed after war broke out in the region.

What happened then?

Israel, whose home match against Ireland is scheduled for November of this year, anticipated those home and away fixtures being reversed, expecting Dublin to host them this month in the rearranged game, while they would welcome Ireland to Tel Aviv next November.


Basketball Ireland rejected that proposal, saying that it could not “guarantee the safety of the Israeli team” in Dublin because of “the likelihood of protests”, and so asked for the game to be played in a neutral venue. The sport’s governing body, Fiba, acceded to that request, so Latvia was chosen as the host for the game.

How did the Israelis feel about that?

They were furious. “We regret that the Irish are not standing by us and not responding in the spirit of sports,” said their basketball federation, contrasting Ireland’s behaviour with that of Latvia, who “are made of the best human material”.


And then?

A mountain of pressure was placed on Basketball Ireland to boycott the game, in support of the people of Gaza, but its chief executive John Feehan insisted that such a “gesture” would not make “a blind bit of difference”. And if it did refuse to fulfil the fixture, it would face a meaty fine and a potential ban from international competition.

Was there yet more controversy in the build-up?

Of course. The Israelis posted photos online of members of the Israeli Defence Forces visiting the team during training; among those images was one of an assault weapon lying at the side of the court. Then one of their squad, Dor Saar, said: “It’s known that they [Ireland] are quite anti-Semitic, it’s not a secret.”

How did Basketball Ireland react?

In response to the “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate” remarks, they announced that the Irish players would not partake in “traditional prematch arrangements” including “exchanging of gifts” and “formal handshakes”, “while our players will line up for the Irish national anthem by our bench, rather than centre court”.

But the match went ahead?

It did. And the Irish players looked decidedly uncomfortable, not least when they had to stand in front of electronic advertising boards that read: “WE LOVE ISRAEL”.

Who won?


How do France and Latvia feel about playing Israel?

All quiet from them so far, so it’s hard to know. But for now, their games against Israel are due to go ahead.

What’s the wider position regarding Israel in international sport?

It remains largely untouched. The International Olympic Committee, for example, supports Israel’s inclusion in this summer’s Paris Games. This has prompted accusations of “hypocrisy” from Russia and Belarus, whose teams are banned from the Olympics and whose individual athletes will only be allowed compete if they have not openly supported the war in Ukraine – and even then they will be classed as “neutral” athletes, with no flags, emblems or anthems allowed

It’s a funny old sporting world?

It is.

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan

Mary Hannigan is a sports writer with The Irish Times