Squash championship canceled after Malaysia bans Israeli team

The WSF and SRAM were concerned about the Omicron variant of COVID-19. The championship, set for December 7, had previously been moved from New Zealand due to pandemic-related restrictions.

A pair of competitors take part in the professional squash tournament on Wednesday night in the outdoor glass court built in the center of Tel Aviv (photo credit: NIMROD ARONOV / COURTESY)
A pair of competitors take part in the professional squash tournament on Wednesday night in the outdoor glass court built in the center of Tel Aviv
(photo credit: NIMROD ARONOV / COURTESY)

The Men’s World Team Squash Championship was canceled on Monday, after the host country Malaysia would not permit the Israeli team to play.

“The WSF [World Squash Federation] believes in an open and inclusive Men’s World Team Squash Championships, and the possibility that some nations would be unable to compete due to the lack of confirmation over the issuing of visas and travel authorizations by the National Authorities has led SRAM [Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia] to inform the WSF of the decision to cancel,” the WSF said in a statement.

In addition, the WSF and SRAM were concerned about the Omicron variant of corona. Set for December 7, the championship had previously been moved from New Zealand due to pandemic-related restrictions.

The Israel Squash Association thanked the WSF leadership for its decision.

“As lovers of sports in general and squash in particular, we know how difficult it is to cancel a tournament,” ISA chairman Aviv Bushinsky said. “When all parties realized Malaysians are banning Israelis from playing, I was grateful to read the president’s letter affirming a commitment to our participation.”

The Israeli team to the  Men's World Team Squash Championship.  (credit: ISRAEL SQUASH ASSOCIATION)The Israeli team to the Men's World Team Squash Championship. (credit: ISRAEL SQUASH ASSOCIATION)

Bushinsky offered for Israel to host WSF events, including teams from countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic relations.

“There is nothing more frustrating for a professional athlete than to be told that he [or] she cannot compete after years of training and preparation, yet I believe that this incident will prevent any similar discrimination in the future,” Bushinsky wrote.

The championship’s cancellation came several days after the ISA sued the World Squash Federation and the Squash Racquets Association of Malaysia at the Court of Arbitration for Sport after Israelis were banned from competing in next week’s now-canceled world championship in Kuala Lumpur.

“Our decision to appeal to CAS was a last resort after a lengthy process,” Bushinsky wrote on Monday. “This action was motivated not simply out of personal or individual considerations... We wish to ensure that no squash player should be excluded from tournaments due to their race, nationality, sexual orientation and politics.”

The ISA had demanded that the Men’s World Team Squash Championship be canceled or moved as long as Israelis cannot participate in Malaysia.

Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations, and SRAM said in September that it “would not be able to guarantee [Israeli players’] safety and well-being” due to long-standing sensitivities surrounding the Israel-Palestine conflict.”

The Israeli petition followed repeated entreaties to the WSF, which said it would not move the event from Malaysia or cancel it.

“We believe we must aim for the higher principle in this case, which is to do all we can to ensure all nations can compete rather than canceling the event and denying all teams,” WSF President Zena Wooldridge wrote on Friday. “If we cancel the event, we risk sport losing out to politics and the Malaysian government will be relieved to have the problems removed from its door.”

The Israeli squash players petitioned to the CAS that same day, accusing the WSF of “constantly washing its hands of the topic,” and “claiming that the final decision to let Israeli athletes enter Malaysia is not within [the] WSF’s remit.”

The ISA pointed out that the WSF’s own constitution adopts the International Olympic Committee Charter, which prohibits discrimination based on nationality. In addition, the ISA argues that the WSF is acting in bad faith to run out the clock without addressing the ban on Israelis playing.

UK Lawyers for Israel Chief Executive Jonathan Turner also contacted the WSF, which is based in the UK, to argue that they were violating the UK Equality Act of 2010 by discriminating against a member on grounds of nationality.

The head of the International Olympic Committee’s Institutional Relations and Governance Department, Jérôme Poivey, had called the situation “extremely regrettable,” and urged the government of Malaysia to provide assurances that the Israeli team would be allowed to participate in the championship without any discrimination.

Italian Squash Federation delegate David Babini also lent his support to the Israeli team, stating, “Italy believes that the championship should be removed, with immediate effect, from Malaysia. This is an unacceptable discrimination against Israel, which has serious consequences on the reputation within the IOC of the WSF, with negative repercussions on our Olympic aspirations.”

Last month, Sport and Culture Minister Chili Tropper appealed to Wooldridge, calling the situation “particularly absurd” in light of the Israeli Squash Association having been invited by the World Squash Federation to participate and having paid all fees and dues.

“I find it impossible to believe that in this modern era, there is still a place for discrimination, as well as the mixing of political considerations and sport,” Tropper wrote.

Prominent Palestinians, however, came out in support of Malaysia, including lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti, who tweeted in favor of banning the Israeli squash delegation.

Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanun praised “Malaysia’s permanent and original position in opposing normalization with the occupation, supporting the Palestinian people and strengthening their steadfastness,” the Indian news site The Siasat Daily reported.