Israeli Rugby Coach Reports SARU’s Executive Council for Disciplinary Offences in Boycotting Tel Aviv Heat Rugby Team

An Israeli rugby coach has submitted a formal notification of offences to the South African Rugby Union (SARU) following the exclusion of the Tel Aviv Heat rugby team from the Mzanzi Challenge competition in South Africa next month.

The notification was made by Joshua Schewitz, Head Coach at Rishon LeZion Owls Rugby Club. Schewitz previously lived in South Africa and played rugby at Wits University and Pirates Rugby Club in Johannesburg.

The South African Zionist Federation (SAZF) and UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) have assisted with the preparation of the notification, which lays out a series of contraventions of SARU’s Constitution and Regulations.

On 3 February 2023 the SARU Executive Council withdrew an invitation to the Tel Aviv Heat rugby team. Mark Alexander, President of the Executive Council, was quoted in SARU’s press release as stating: “We have listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC”.

The participation of Tel Aviv Heat in the Mzansi Challenge had been planned for several months and the invitation had been confirmed by the Executive Council on two previous occasions, before it was suddenly withdrawn on 3 February without prior notice.

Mr Schewitz observed in the notification, “It appears that the decision to exclude the Tel Aviv Heat team was taken on political grounds, pandering to the bigotry of unidentified ‘stakeholder groups’.”

“The South African Friends of Israel (SAFI) recently submitted their own Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) to SARU to confirm which stakeholders were consulted, fearing undue political interference in local sporting fixtures” states Benji Shulman, Director of Public Policy at the SAZF.

The notification of offences as submitted by Schewitz identifies a number of clauses of SARU’s own Constitution and Disciplinary Regulations that were breached by its Executive Council. For example, the objects specified in the Constitution include:

  • pursuing policies and programmes….aimed at redressing imbalances of the past and creating a genuinely non-racial, non-sexist, non-political and democratic dispensation for rugby in South Africa;
  • promoting inclusivity and diversity within the game;
  • encouraging rugby … for all persons, irrespective of race, colour, creed or gender, and to eliminate any discrimination and inequality amongst players and officials alike.

The notification pointed out that the decision to exclude the Israeli team went against all of these objects. Schewitz has also pointed out that one of the adverse consequences of inserting illegitimate political considerations into the game of rugby has been to harm the careers of several young South African players, who are developing their talents at Tel Aviv Heat and will be denied the opportunity of playing in this competition if the rescinded invite is not rapidly restored.

According to World Rugby Regulations, which also apply to SARU, misconduct includes an act or conduct that is “discriminatory by reason of religion, race, sex, sexual orientation, disability, colour or national or ethnic origin”.

The cancellation of the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat was plainly discriminatory by reason of national or ethnic origin and therefore classed as “Misconduct” according to these Regulations. 

Mr Schewitz has asked SARU to initiate an enquiry into this matter or to refer it to a Judicial Officer or Committee for adjudication.

UKLFI has separately written to SARU and World Rugby drawing attention to the breaches of their Regulations.

Jonathan Turner, Chief Executive of UKLFI, commented: “Sports bodies have rules preventing discrimination and political interference. It is in the interest of all engaged in sport that these rules are complied with. We welcome the public-spirited intervention of Mr Schewitz seeking to enforce them and hope that this will be achieved in time for Tel Aviv Heat to play in this competition.”

Mr Schewitz said: “Rugby is a game divorced from politics. The players, coaches, and supporters love the game due to the nature of the game, which is to play the game hard and then shake hands when it’s finished. Bringing politics into the game is contrary to rugby ethos.”

The SAZF and UKLFI will communicate any further action steps as the situation continues to develop, in the hope that SARU will be held accountable for its transgression of both local and international rugby codes of conduct.  


*IMAGE: Photograph of the 2015 Rugby World Cup, South Africa vs USA