A teenage girl campaigning to keep her place in Israel’s otherwise all-boys national cricket team so that she can play in the upcoming Maccabiah Games took her case to court Sunday in a bid to force officials to let her back into the team.
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, she said last week, but was told by organizers that she couldn’t play with the team because it is 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 and her mother Carmel Eytan, who is spokeswoman for the Na’amat Israeli women’s rights organization, along with Na’amat itself, filed the request at the Tel Aviv District Court against the Maccabiah Games Committee and Maccabiah International.
The Israel Cricket Association has put itself squarely on Eytan’s side, with chairman Steve Leigh contributing an affidavit to Eytan’s court petition in which he detailed the selection process, based solely on merit, that earned her a place in the team.
“I think that the people who play cricket [in Israel] speak as one voice in that we want Naomi to play,” he told The Times of Israel on Sunday. “I am baffled as to why the Maccabiah is digging its heels in. All I know is that this young lady is good enough to play on our team.”
Last week, Roy Hessing, spokesperson of the Maccabiah Games Committee, said that the committee decision against Eytan was based on regulations laid down by the International Cricket Council, the world governing body for the sport.
Hessing told The Times of Israel that ICC regulations relating to gender separation were intended to make the sport fair and safe.
“There will not be a precedent” set for Eytan, he said. “It is not a rational request in relation to international regulations.”
Addressing Eytan’s campaign and the support she has received from many local cricketers, Hessing added, “We operate according to regulations and not public demands.”
The particular rule cited by Hessing was from the ICC regulations (PDF download) regarding transgender players.
Section 126.96.36.199 of the Gender Recognition Policy states: “Most relevantly for present purposes, because of the significant advantages in size, strength and power enjoyed (on average) by males over females from puberty onward… it is necessary to have separate competition categories for males and females in order to preserve the safety, fairness and integrity of the sport for the benefit of all of its participants and stakeholders.”
If necessary, Hessing said, the Maccabiah Games Committee is prepared to defend its position in court.
Carmel Eytan dismissed as “unreasonable” a decision to ban her daughter on the basis or regulations concerning transgender players.
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 sports 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.