Nachman Rosenberg (right) and Eitan Zeliger (center) pose with Prof. Aviad Hacohen, who is representing Shabbat Team in the petition.
(photo credit: SHABBAT TEAM)
The Culture and Sport Ministry has declared it will be changing the criteria for financial support for sports associations so that any association that does not make sufficient efforts to accommodate Shabbat observant competitors could face a cut in state funding.
The new policy stems from a petition to the High Court of Justice by the Shabbat Team organization, which argued that the practice of many sports associations to hold competitions, meetings and trials on Shabbat made it impossible for Sabbath-observant competitors to compete.
Shabbat Team says that is has fielded dozens of complaints in recent years by religious athletes in different fields who have found it impossible to partake in their sport because the associations refused to accommodate them.
Often requests were made to either stage events on weekdays, or before or after Shabbat. Likewise, in conducive disciplines like swimming, religious athletes have requested that the association allow them to perform in a separate session from the main competition and have their time entered alongside those of the competitors in the main competition.
Many of the various sports associations claimed that staging competitions and league events on a weekday is difficult, due to the fact that competitors and referees are often only free from work, studies or other primary commitments on Shabbat, and due to the lack of available facilities during the week.
It was also claimed that Fridays are sometimes not a suitable alternative for Shabbat because the amount of time before the Sabbath begins can be relatively short.
But likely due to the pressure of the petition, the ministry has now agreed to change the conditions for funding sports associations.
Although Shabbat Team says some sports associations have been accommodating to religious athletes, others have been less than willing and even obstructive to efforts made toward affording Sabbath-observant competitors opportunities to partake.
It therefore filed its petition against the Culture and Sport Ministry, as well as the Israel Swimming Association, the Israel Shooting Association, and the Gymnastics Association.
In response to the High Court petition, the ministry wrote: “Preconditions will be established which require sports associations to provide a solution for Shabbat-observant sportsmen and women who wish to participate in sports competitions organized by supported bodies without being forced to violate the Sabbath.”
However, these preconditions will include a stipulation that if the association or other sports body demonstrates that it has done everything possible to try and find a solution for religious competitors, then those organizations will not be subject to any cessation of funding from the ministry.
“In the Jewish state in 2018, it is unreasonable and unacceptable that children should be forced to choose between Shabbat observance and participating in sports,” said Nachman Rosenberg, the co-founder of Shabbat Team.
Rosenberg compared the situation to one in which racial and ethnic minorities would not be able to compete, arguing that such a situation would be unacceptable.
“Two decades ago there were no religious soldiers in IDF elite units, but once a decision was made to accommodate them then large numbers of religious people began to serve in them. Religious people pay taxes and serve in the army and it’s unreasonable and unacceptable that they not be able to participate in these sports competitions.”