The Israel Squash Association has 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 world championship in Kuala Lumpur.
The ISA submitted the suit on Friday, demanding that the Men’s World Team Squash Championship, set for December 7, be canceled or moved as long as Israelis cannot participate in Malaysia.
Malaysia and Israel do not have diplomatic relations. Malaysia’s squash association 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 came after repeated entreaties to the WSF, which said it will 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. “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 accused 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.”
“As these lines are being written in the year 2021, athletes are banned from participating in a sport competition because of their nationality and/or religion and/or due to political considerations which have no place in sport,” the ISA’s petition reads. “This is a sad moment for all sport lovers and an extreme violation of all basic values of sport.”
The ISA pointed out that the WSF’s own constitution adopts the International Olympic Committee Charter, which prohibits discrimination based on nationality. In addition, it 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 are violating the UK Equality Act of 2010 by discriminating against a member on grounds of nationality.
“We believe that... members of the board of WSF must have known that Israeli players would not be permitted to enter Malaysia when you decided to hold the championship in that country,” due to the World Para-Swimming Championship being moved from Malaysia in 2019 for that reason, UK Lawyers for Israel stated.
“Indeed, if you did not know that Israeli players would be banned from entering Malaysia, this would show a degree of ignorance incompatible with your positions as a major international sports body.”
The fact that the ban on Israelis is a Malaysian policy and not one of the WSF is not a legitimate defense, the lawyers stated, adding that they anticipate that Israeli players will make substantial claims for compensation if they are unable to compete.
“For these reasons, we believe that the WJF has legal as well as moral obligations not to accept the racism of the Malaysian authorities,” Turner stated. “Going along with racism because ‘top nations’ are permitted to participate is not acceptable. We urge you, even at this late stage, to cancel the championship.”
The head of the International Olympic Committee’s Institutional Relations and Governance Department Jérôme Poivey called the situation “extremely regrettable” and said that he 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.”
Prominent Palestinians, however, came out in support of Malaysia, including lawmaker Mustafa Barghouti, who tweeted in favor of banning the Israeli squash delegation, and Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif al-Qanun, who praised “Malaysia’s permanent and original position in opposing normalization with the occupation, supporting the Palestinian people and strengthening their steadfastness,” Indian news site The Siasat Daily reported.
Last month, ISA chairman Aviv Bushinsky wrote to WSF CEO William Louis-Marie to express the Israeli team’s disappointment and offered to move the championship to Israel, where all competitors from all nations would be guaranteed equal participation.
Sport and Culture Minister Chili Tropper appealed to Wooldridge, calling the situation “particularly absurd” in light of the fact that the Israeli Squash Association was invited by the World Squash Federation to participate and 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.