‘A milestone’ victory for Shabbat observant sports competitors

Shabbat Team says it has fielded dozens of complaints in recent years by religious sportsmen in different fields who have found it impossible to compete.

July 26, 2018 20:48
2 minute read.
Culture Minister Miri Regev cabinet meeting March 11, 2018

Culture Minister Miri Regev cabinet meeting March 11, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Sports associations and unions will from now on be required to take “reasonable” measures to accommodate Sabbath observant competitors in sporting competitions and tournaments in order to qualify for state funding, after Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev authorized new ministry regulations on the matter.

The policy stems from pressure by an organization called Shabbat Team, which argues that the practice of many sports associations to hold competitions, meetings and trials on Friday evenings and Saturday during the day made it impossible for religiously observant competitors to compete.

Shabbat Team says it has fielded dozens of complaints in recent years by religious sportsmen in different fields who have found it impossible to compete because some sports associations refused to accommodate them in different ways.

Often requests are made to either stage events on weekdays, before Shabbat on Friday, or after Shabbat on Saturday, or to allow religious competitors in conducive disciplines – such as swimming – to perform in a separate session from the main competition and have their time entered alongside those of the competitors in the main competition.

The new clause in regulations for ministerial support for sports associations and unions signed by Regev states that the institution “allows Sabbath observant sportsmen wanting to participate in sports competitions it organizes to do so without injuring their religious obligations.”

The regulations state, however, that the institution will still be eligible for support if a ministerial committee is convinced that the sport association provided alternatives to the Shabbat observant competitor and made “reasonable efforts to allow the Shabbat observant to participate in the competition,” even in a case when the competitor was ultimately unable to participate “due to harm to the sporting competitiveness of that branch, or due to external pressures outside of its control.”

“This milestone victory ends decades of discrimination against Shabbat observant athletes, who until now have been forced to choose between their passion for sports, and their Jewish tradition. This marks a new era of equal rights and will enable thousands of new athletes into the sports community of the Jewish State,” said Nachman Rosenberg, co-founder of Shabbat Team.

Many of the various sports associations claim that staging competitions and league events outside of Shabbat is difficult for various reasons, including the fact that competitors and referees are often only free from work, studies or other primary commitments on Shabbat, and the lack of available facilities during the week.

In was also claimed that Friday afternoons in the winter months are unsuitable as an alternative time because of the early hour of sunset.

Although Shabbat Team says some sports associations have been accommodating to religious sportsmen and women, others have been less than willing and even obstructive to efforts to afford Sabbath observant competitors the opportunity to compete.

The organization therefore petitioned the High Court of Justice to uphold the rights of religious competitors, and it was this legal pressure that appears to have swayed the ministry.

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