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International Ice Hockey Federation reverses ban of Israeli athletes from competing in U20 world championship

Global ice hockey governing body reverses its decision after international outcry

Illustrative - Israel national hockey team members during the IIHF world championships in Mexico City, April 2019. (Photo: Ice Hockey Federation of Israel)

The International Ice Hockey Federation on Wednesday decided to reverse its recent ban on Israel from participating in the world championship games in Bulgaria. The U20 tournament brings athletes, who are under the age of 20, to compete from six countries next week.

In a decision earlier in January, the International Hockey Federation (IIHF) announced it would "restrict the Israeli National Team from participating in IIHF Championships until the safety and well-being of all participants (including Israeli participants) can be assured.”

The IIHF reversed its decision after announcing on Wednesday it now had “the safety and security support needed” for Israel to compete in the tournament.

The initial ban of Israel by the IIHF led to an outcry across the hockey world, with the Israeli Ice Hockey Association stating it would file a claim with the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the IIHF's “antisemitic decision to exclude Israel,” which it characterized as “an unusual and very serious step that does not meet any international sporting standard and stands in complete contradiction to Olympic values.”

The reversal came eight hours before a scheduled hearing at the CAS on the matter, following Israel's move to appeal.

Co-founder of the IIHF, Israeli-Canadian Paul Shindman, said that the original decision to ban Israel was an unjust punishment for Israeli players.  

“[Punishing] Israeli hockey players after their country was brutally attacked by terrorists is unfair and unjust. Israel’s sportsmen and women deserve the support and embrace of their friends in the international hockey world, not to be excluded. It makes them victims twice over,” said Shindman.

The Toronto Sun newspaper published an editorial piece on Jan. 12 condemning the ban as “spineless” and “a shameful act of cowardice,” and referenced the historical event in 1972 at the Munich Olympics, when Israeli athletes were attacked.

“In Munich in 1972, 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and subsequently murdered after eight Palestinian terrorists, part of the so-called Black September group, broke into the Olympic compound. Fast forward to 2024, and Israelis are being punished for defending themselves once again against Palestinian terrorists.”

Yael Arad, chairman of Israel's Olympic Committee, said in a statement that the IIHF's decision was antisemitic.

“Unfortunately, we are witnessing a precedent-setting and dangerous decision with a strong undercurrent of antisemitism, disguised under the pretext of athlete safety,” Arad said.

The reversal of the ban was well received in Israel.

“We are very excited by the international association's announcement that it retracts its decision and invites the Israeli national team to participate in the tournament in Bulgaria,” Arad said.

“During the ban, many good people from around the world participated, including Israel Ambassador Israel to Bulgaria Yossi Levi Sfari, Deputy Director of Public Diplomacy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Emmanuel Nahshon, the Embassy of Israel in France, the Anti-Defamation League and, of course, Attorney Dalia Bushinsky, who led the legal advisors together with Attorney Gil Atar and the entire team of the Olympic Committee, who worked day and night to prevent this exclusion.”

“This is not only a victory for Israeli sports but also for the people of Israel,” she added.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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