A teenage Israeli girl has been banned from playing with Israel’s under-19 cricket team at a major international sporting event in the country because she is female. Backed by the Israel Cricket Association (ICA) and many fellow Israeli cricketers, she’s now campaigning to beat officialdom and take her place on the field. And the ICA is vowing to appeal to Sports Minister Miri Regev.
Naomi Eytan, 14, has played in the Israeli national under-19 cricket team all season — the only girl in the squad of the top 15 youth players in the country. With the Maccabiah Games set to start next month, she expected to join her teammates as they battle against Jewish cricketers from around the world, but was told by organizers that she can’t play in the team, because it is supposed to be for men only.
The Maccabiah, considered the Jewish Olympics, brings together tens of thousands of athletes from all over the world to compete in Israel. This year, the event is scheduled to run July 4-18.
Eytan, from Tel Aviv, told the Times of Israel that she first heard about the decision to prevent her playing two weeks ago. “I am very angry and disappointed that they won’t let me play,” she said.
Eytan’s mother, Carmel Eytan, said that they did not deliberately plan to make a public campaign to reverse the decision but that word spread through social media among local cricket players who have been very supportive. “There has been so much support it is very moving,” she said.
“If there was a girls’ team I wouldn’t have a problem, but there are no girls in Israel who play cricket and I was chosen to represent Israel as one of the 15 best,” Naomi told the Hebrew-language Ynet website earlier. “What kind of message is the Maccabiah sending to girls and to the world? Instead of being proud of me they are sending me home because of rules and regulations that it is unclear who made up.”
The rest of her team were also surprised at the news.
The decision has caused an uproar among many local adult players, who are seeking to help Eytan compete.
The Maccabiah explained its reasoning in a statement to Ynet, saying, “The competition is conducted in accordance with international regulations while maintaining professional and safety standards. The Maccabiah received a request by the cricket association to include a female player in the youth team, which doesn’t meet the international regulations that the Maccabiah relies on.”
But Eytan’s coach, Yonni Sidelsky, told The Times of Israel Monday that although the Maccabiah committee claims that allowing her to play would contravene regulations, it has not been forthcoming as to what those regulations are.
“They have yet to produce the rules,” he said, and noted that he asked for a clarification two weeks ago.
Even if allowing Eytan to play would set a precedent, “a precedent has to start somewhere,” Sidelsky added. “The Maccabiah is about bringing people together. We see this as a tragedy.”
Although it is rare, women have played in men’s cricket teams in semi-professional and even professional leagues, most recently British-born Sarah Taylor, who in 2015 played a match for Northern Districts against Port Adelaide in Australia. Meanwhile, mixed-gender events are gaining popularity and the International Olympic Committee recently decided that the 2020 games in Tokyo will include relay swimming and running events for teams with members of both genders.
The Israel Cricket Association has put itself squarely on Eytan’s side, with director Naor Gudker appealing to Maccabiah officials to show some flexibility.
“In the past a female player from Beersheba played together with the men in the European championships after organizers let her,” Gudker told Ynet. “I am optimistic that perhaps the decision will be changed. She is a talented and outstanding girl and it is a shame. I would expect them to let her play.”
ICA Chairman Steve Leigh said he intends to contact Culture and Sports Minister Regev about the matter.
“We selected Naomi for the team based on professional criteria, and we didn’t think that it required a special request from the Maccabiah,” he said. “We were surprised that she can’t participate and it doesn’t seem fair. The minister is a politician and a woman, and she’s in a position to help, and so we’ll ask her to get involved.”
Eytan also sent a letter to Galia Wolloch, president of Na’amat, an Israeli women’s rights organization, Ynet reported.
“Since I was little my mother taught me that I am equal and that I can do everything just like boys can,” she wrote. “I am an athlete and have played cricket since 3rd grade. There are not many girls who do this and I am used to being the only girl among many boys. I have always believed what my mother said and believed in myself. I was sure that if I practiced, the sky would be the limit. But now I know – my mother lied. There is a clear limit for girls and it is nowhere near the sky.
“I worked hard, I practiced, and I was accepted to Israel’s youth cricket team. One girl amongst 14 boys. I was so proud! But then reality gave me a slap across the face…
“I hope you can help me because I understand that we need to fight for equality and that women really can’t do what men can do – meaning, they are capable but the world does not always let them.”
Wolloch said she would take up Eytan’s cause.
“Naomi’s words to me were like a punch in the stomach,” she said. “I hope that the Maccabiah will see the situation as it is… All that the girl wants to do is to play what she is good at.”