The fallout from SARU's latest off-field debacle is escalating
The fall-out over the South African Rugby Union’s (SARU) decision to ‘withdraw’ an invitation to Tel Aviv Heat to play in the Mzansi Challenge has escalated – resulting in ‘legal action’ against the national body.
The South African Friends of Israel confirmed to Rugby365 that they have submitted an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act for SARU to reveal which stakeholders were consulted in their decision-making process before the Heat was axed from the Mzansi Challenge.
SARU President Mark Alexander announced the withdrawal in a statement on Friday, February 3.
“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,” Alexander said.
The saga has since taken a couple of intriguing twists – including the revelation that South African BDS Coalition threats are linked to the withdrawal of the invitation, while New Zealand high court barrister and solicitor Ian Dunwoodie also filed a formal complaint with World Rugby.
The withdrawal of the invitation by SARU came on the same day that the BDS Coalition issued a threatening statement.
The anti-Israel group – a self-proclaimed network of Palestine solidarity organisations and the South African affiliate to the Palestinian BDS National Committee – said “if this apartheid Israeli team [Tel Aviv Heat] comes to play in South Africa, SARU will have blood on its hands.”
Now SAFI filed a formal application to force SARU to disclose how they arrived at the decision.
SAFI spokesperson Pamela Ngubane said their action follows SARU’s failure to disclose their meeting minutes, after a formal request was submitted to the SAFI legal team last week.
Arsen Ostrovsky, a human rights attorney and CEO of the International Legal Forum, has joined this fight, demanding that SARU reverse its decision to disinvite the ‘internationally qualifying team’, following pressure from supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“We call on SA Rugby to live up to its own values and immediately reverse its decision, re-invite Tel Aviv Heat to the competition and make an unequivocal statement condemning the intimidatory, bullying and discriminatory tactics of the BDS movement and those who led the campaign to rescind the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat,” Ngubane said in a statement to @rugby365com.
Local stakeholders including players, their families, South African Friends of Israel, the South African Zionist Federation, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the Tel Aviv Heat team themselves are just some of the roleplayers that were never consulted in this process.
SAFI said through their PAIA application they hope to ascertain which voices were afforded an undue influence in South Africa’s sporting fixtures and affairs.
Over the last week, statements slamming SARU’s decision were made public by the ACDP, the FF+ and World Cup-winning Springbok Joel Stransky.
The ANC issued a statement commending SARU’s decision.
However, SAFI said they remain concerned that political interference, and alleged death threats from the antisemitic BDS movement, may have contributed to the decision-making process.
“The South African public, which has condemned the decision at large, deserves an answer for this tragic decision,” the SAFI statement said, adding: “Discrimination, on any basis, must not be tolerated in South African sporting fixtures and events.”
Dunwoodie confirmed to @rugby365com last week that he filed a complaint with World Rugby over the development.
“I made the submission to World Rugby in my personal capacity,” he said.
His submission was submitted to World Rugby on February 7.
Dunwoodie told Rugby365 that he suspected there were “no credible threats” and perhaps SARU caved into a few small groups with strong opinions.
Dunwoodie has had an acknowledgement from World Rugby’s legal team of his complaint, although they have not made it clear how they plan to handle the submission.
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