Rugby sevens, a sport that generally enjoys a pleasant obscurity in Israel, bumped up uncomfortably against a local mixture of harsh reality and bumbling ineptitude at the weekend.
Fijian members of a cup-holding rugby sevens team from Ashkelon didn’t make it for their weekly match in the coastal town because they were locked out of Israel — stuck on the Egyptian side of a new fence along the border. The IDF couldn’t find the key.
Ashkelon’s team was a dominant force last season, but this year it had a poor start. On Friday, the stepped-up security along the southern border made matters worse, Maariv reported on Monday.
The team fields a number of Fijian players, who when they’re not on the rugby field spend their time serving in the UN’s peacekeeping force in Sinai. When the players attempted to make their way to Ashkelon for their game, Israeli soldiers at the Nitzana border crossing couldn’t open the gate.
Hanan Gamburg, the manager of the Hapoel Ashkelon team, said the situation was very strange. The team had already booked hotel rooms for its players, he told the Hebrew daily.
Gamburg said the army couldn’t find the key, or anyone who had a spare. He was told there were “other ways” to open the gate in the case of emergency, but the late arrival of rugby players for a game didn’t constitute one.
The IDF Spokesperson said in response that operating the crossing was not the IDF’s responsibility but rather that of the police and Border Police. The police and Border Police disagreed.
Fiji has long been considered a strong rugby nation, and the Ashkelon team has used the peacekeepers to its on-field advantage for several years.