Reacting to accusations of antisemitism, the Irish national women’s basketball team refused to shake hands with Israel’s squad at a qualifying game Thursday for next year’s European championship.
The Irish women also declined to partake in other traditional pleasantries, including an exchange of gifts. They lined up before the game near their bench, rather than near center court, where their opponents lined up.
Ireland’s basketball governing body said in a statement earlier Thursday that it had alerted the International Basketball Federation’s administrative arm for Europe about the demonstration. The game was played in Riga, Latvia, after an Israeli home game was postponed in November because of security concerns.
Basketball Ireland said that the players’ decision, which it “fully” supported, came as a “direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff — including inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of antisemitism, published on official Israeli federation channels.”
In a story Tuesday published on the Israeli Basketball Association website, guard Dor Saar said of the Irish squad: “It’s known that they are quite antisemitic and it’s no secret.”
“We talk about it among ourselves,” Saar added. “We know they don’t love us, and we will leave everything on the field always, and in this game especially.”
The anthems of Ireland and Israel from todays international in Riga
Ireland remained along the sideline during the anthems as part of a refusal to partake in pre-match ceremonies. Yesterday an Israeli player said of the Ireland team: ‘it’s known that they are quite antisemitic’ pic.twitter.com/ITxJGxELYu
Following the game, an 87-57 win for Israel in group play to qualify for FIBA Women’s EuroBasket 2025, both coaches addressed the Irish players’ actions.
Saying he “would prefer to be talking about basketball and not this,” Ireland Coach James Weldon said his team “didn’t engage in the pre-match activities as a direct result of those unwarranted and unacceptable comments from the Israeli camp about our players. It was hugely disappointing.”
“I think for such a young group of players they showed incredible maturity in how they handled a very pressured week,” Weldon added of his team. “It’s been difficult for all of us.”
“I have been in sports for many years and I have never seen anything like this in my life,” said Israel Coach Sharon Drucker (via Sports Rabbi). “There isn’t a game where you don’t acknowledge the other team, shake hands, congratulate each other. They took an extreme step, and they received their punishment for that today. Sports need to be a bridge. They took a side without even thinking about what they were doing.”
The episode unfolded as the Middle East continued to be immersed in turmoil following a Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Israel’s ongoing military actions in response in the neighboring and Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have drawn condemnation, as has Hamas’s attack, while antisemitic incidents have also been on the rise.
It wasn’t immediately clear what specifically lay behind Saar’s accusation of antisemitism. Basketball Ireland said in a January statement that it “raised strong concerns about these fixtures with Israel, including the option to not play the games” but that FIBA was “insistent” that the games take place. Citing the threats of fines from the international body and possible removal from the EuroBasket qualifying tournament, Basketball Ireland said then it was “obliged” to take the court.
“Naturally this fixture was always going to provide a focal point for debate around the conflict in the region; and any decision made either way by Basketball Ireland would receive criticism from certain quarters,” the organization said in January. “We are all very concerned about the events unfolding in Gaza and are extremely sympathetic to the dreadful situation that people are having to deal with.”
In addition to the events in Riga, Thursday also brought news that an association of Middle Eastern soccer federations asked FIFA and regional federations to ban Israel from “all football-related activities until these acts of aggression cease.”
According to a letter cited by Sky Sports, the West Asian Football Federation — which includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan and Palestine — called upon global soccer governing bodies to take “a decisive stand against the atrocities committed in Palestine and the war crimes in Gaza.”
The Israeli Football Association called for a rejection of the request. “I am trusting FIFA not to involve politics in football,” an Israeli FA official told Sky News.
UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, said Thursday that it has no plans to remove Israel from qualifying matches for its continental tournament later this year. Referring to UEFA’s ban of Russia, an official with the body said (via the Associated Press) that there are “two completely different situations” between that nation and Israel.
“Don’t forget the start of the war in Russia and Ukraine,” UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis said, “and the start of what is happening now — which is regrettable, of course — in the Middle East.”
Saar, who played college basketball from 2017 to 2022 at Maine and Middle Tennessee, said Thursday that the Irish team’s actions “gave us more drive and motivation.”
“We sang the national anthem at the top of our lungs with pride,” said Saar, who scored 12 points on 4-of-7 shooting against Ireland, “and we have to show the entire world that we are the state of Israel and that we will be here for many, many more years.”