Lifting ban, International Hockey Federation to let Israel compete in U20 tourney

Sport’s governing body reverses decision to bar Israeli team from competing in Bulgaria, saying it will have the necessary ‘security support’

Illustrative: Israel national hockey team members on the bench at the IIHF world championships in Mexico City, April 2019. (Ice Hockey Federation of Israel)
Illustrative: Israel national hockey team members on the bench at the IIHF world championships in Mexico City, April 2019. (Ice Hockey Federation of Israel)

JTA — The International Ice Hockey Federation has reversed its decision to ban Israel from a world championship in Bulgaria.

In a statement Wednesday, the federation announced that it will have “the safety and security support needed” to allow Israel to take part in the tournament, which brings together the under-20 teams of six countries and begins on January 22.

The ban was not the first time Jewish or Israeli athletes had been penalized as fallout from the Israel-Hamas war — and it sparked international backlash.

Israel won the silver medal in its division at last year’s tournament and was originally supposed to host a portion of the competition this year. But following Hamas’s murderous shock invasion of Israel on October 7 and the ensuing war in Gaza, the games were moved to Bulgaria. The Hamas-led rampage saw 3,000 terrorists burst into southern Israel from Gaza, slaughter 1,200 people — mostly civilians massacred amid brutal atrocities — and seize 240 hostages, over 130 of whom are still held captive.

Last week, the federation took matters a step further, announcing that due to “concerns over the safety and security of all participants in the Championships,” Israel would be excluded from the federation’s competitions “for the time being.”

The NHL weighed into the controversy, saying in a statement that it had “significant concerns” about the IIHF’s decision, adding that “we also have been assured that the decision is not intended to be a sanction against the Israeli Federation.”

But that did not assuage Israelis’ concerns. Mikhael Horowitz, the CEO of the Ice Hockey Federation of Israel, told the Canadian Jewish News earlier this week that his association was informed of the ban only 24 hours before the announcement. Horowitz said Israel had accepted the IIHF’s decision to move part of the tournament out of Israel due to the war, but that its removal of Israel from the tournament altogether was unacceptable.

“We see this as discriminatory and against the Olympic Charter and it will not be accepted by Israel,” Horowitz said. “There was no attempt to take the risk assessment, and together with us or on their part, find solutions.”

Illustrative: Hockey fans display an American and Israeli flag as they watch players warm up before the start of an NHL hockey game between the Florida Panthers and the Columbus Blue Jackets, November 6, 2023, in Sunrise, Florida. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Paul Shindman, a Canadian-Israeli and the Israeli hockey federation’s founder, also slammed the removal of Israel from the tournament. He said that the ban, on the heels of the October 7 attack, makes Israelis “victims twice over.”

“Israel’s sportsmen and women deserve the support and embrace of their friends in the international hockey world, not to be excluded,” he told the Canadian Jewish News.

Israeli officials weren’t the only ones protesting.

An editorial in the Toronto Sun on January 12 called the ban “spineless” and “a shameful act of cowardice.” The piece argued that the decision set a dangerous precedent for Israel’s participation in future international sports tournaments, including the 2024 Paris Olympics, and referenced the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre, when 11 members of Israel’s Olympic delegation were murdered by terrorists at the Munich Games.

“Fast forward to 2024, and Israelis are being punished — for defending themselves once again against Palestinian terrorists,” the editorial said.

Five days later, the International Ice Hockey Federation reversed course, lifting the ban on Israel. In its reversal, the federation said it would continue to review Israel’s participation in upcoming international tournaments on a case-by-case basis.

Yael Arad, chairwoman of Israel’s Olympic committee, told the Jerusalem Post that the country was “very excited” to participate in the tournament.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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