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Irish women's basketball team refuses handshake with Israel

February 9, 2024

Ireland's female basketball team shunned usual pre-game courtesies when facing Israel in a EuroBasket qualifying match, after being outraged by accusations of antisemitism.

The Ireland women's basketball team singing the national anthem, standing in a line with their hands on each other's shoulders
The Ireland women's basketball team refused to shake hands with IsraelImage: Ben Brady/Inpho/IMAGO

Ireland's women's basketball team refused to shake hands with the Israel players at their EuroBasket 2025 qualifier in Riga on Thursday.

Prior to the game, the Israeli Basketball Association published an interview with player Dor Saar in which she made allegations about antisemitism in the Ireland team.

"It's known that they are quite antisemitic, and it's no secret," said Saar. "Maybe that's why a strong game is expected."

Basketball Ireland reacted with a statement prior to the match, calling the comments "inflammatory and wholly inaccurate." The organization said the team would not participate in "traditional pre-match arrangements," such as the exchange of gifts or formal handshakes. The team also lined up for the national anthem by their bench, rather than at center court.

The Irish association has also reported Saar's comments to basketball's governing body, FIBA, and added it "fully supports our players in their decision."

Calls for a boycott

The match, which was moved to Riga because of the ongoing war in Gaza, went ahead despite growing calls for Ireland to boycott.

Ireland was the first European Union member state to declare that a solution to the conflict in the Middle East had to be based on a fully sovereign Palestinian state, independent of and coexisting with Israel. Ireland's minister for sport, Thomas Byrne, said the government couldn't intervene in the controversy and that it was up to the world governing body whether the game went ahead or not.

In the lead-up to the contest, Israel coach Sharon Drucker criticized Ireland, saying they "did not respect" what the game symbolizes. Calls for a boycott only intensified after the Israeli team shared photos from a practice session days before the game that included a visit by soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces. FIBA has promised to look at those images and find out if they "contravene our values."

While Ireland did not boycott — the federation said the team would face heavy fines and expulsion from the competition if they did — several players opted not to travel to the game. Former women's international Rebecca O'Keefe told radio show Lunchtime Live that a boycott would send a "strong message of solidarity" to Palestinians and that the players had been put "in an awful position."


Israel went on to win 87-57 in a game that was played behind closed doors for security reasons.

"For such a young group of players, they showed incredible maturity in how they handled a pressured week," said Ireland coach James Weldon. "It's been difficult for all of us."

In response to Ireland's refusal to participate in pre-match arrangements, Weldon added: "I would prefer to be talking about basketball and not this; we 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."

Israel coach Sharon Drucker on the sidelines coaching
Israel coach Sharon Drucker said Ireland 'received their punishment'Image: Schüler/IMAGO

Ireland 'received their punishment'

Israel coach Drucker insisted that Ireland got what it deserved for their pre- and postgame behavior.

"I've been in sports for many years; I have never seen such things in my life," Drucker was quoted as saying in the Israel Basketball Federation's official match report.

"There was no game where you don't give concessions, shake hands, congratulate each other. They took a step on an absolute way, and they received their punishment today."

Israel's captain Eden Rotberg added: "It was much more than a victory. It became personal. It was hard for me to see them being disrespectful during the anthem; sport should be outside of politics and it hasn't been recently with the Irish."

Ireland is scheduled to host Israel in the return fixture on November 10.

mb/jh (AP, Reuters)