Skip to content

Open letter to World Rugby We stand by SA Rugby Union to Exclude Tel-Aviv Heat

  • by

19 February 2023

The Executive Committee The World Rugby Council

8-10 Pembroke Street Lower, Dublin, Ireland Email:

For Attention: Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont, Vice-Chairman Bernard Laporte and Chief Executive Officer Alan Gilpin Dear Sirs

  1. We, the undersigned South African civil society organisations, working to promote the Palestinian cause for justice, address this letter to World Rugby in its capacity as the international regulator of the sport of rugby football. As such, you are an important member of the international community responsible for shaping and determining the values and ethos of this sport and with the corresponding power to impose sanction on those associations who bring World Rugby  or the sport into


  1. The decision by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) on 3 February 2023 to withdraw its invitation to the Israeli rugby team, Tel Aviv Heat, is a significant and positive step in the right direction not only for rugby but indeed all other sports in South Africa and internationally. Furthermore, it has the powerful potential to influence and persuade other sporting codes and federations to take similar positions (those who have not already done so), but more importantly, it is  a step towards justice for Palestinians.   They are a people who have been under the   longest settler colonial occupation    by Israel  in modern history, which is widely condemned as illegal under international law by the United Nations. For   over seven decades the Palestinian people have had to endure the most violent and brutal ethnic cleansing, destruction      of their homes, mass killings, daily repression, detention without trial and imprisonment for lengthy periods, including children as young as 10 years. This “incremental genocide” is intended to displace the Palestinian people, remove them from their land and acquire the land for racist, Zionist Israel in the name of an exclusive homeland for


  1. Last year was one of the deadliest in terms of the high number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army. According to official figures, 225 people were killed in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip over the past 12 months. The current Israeli political coalition led by Prime Minister Netanyahu is an ultra-right fascist regime which begs the international community’s urgent intervention. In January 2023 alone, Israeli occupation forces killed thirty-five Palestinians, including eight children. Almog Cohen, a parliamentarian from the ultra-right-wing Jewish Power Party of National Minister of Security, Itmar Ben-Gvir, praised the murderous occupation forces for their massacre in Jenin on 26 January 2023 that left nine Palestinians dead and more than twenty injured, referring to it as “nice and professional work” and urging that they “keep killing them”. Apartheid Israel is using sports to whitewash a cruel system of


  1. The formal complaint lodged with World Rugby by New Zealand barrister, Mr Ian Dunwoodie, (assuming he has the necessary standing to do so), against SARU cannot be properly adjudicated without due consideration of the background, context and underlying reasons for the call locally for SARU to re-examine its decision to invite Tel Aviv Heat and their subsequent withdrawal of the


  1. While it is not possible to do justice to those reasons in a letter of this nature, the essence of the call to SARU was a principled one. Given our own history, South Africans have political, ethical and moral obligations to stand in solidarity with the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid. In South Africa, the right to freedom of expression is protected under section 16 of our Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996). The right to peacefully assemble, demonstrate and picket is protected by section 17 of the Constitution, and this includes the right to boycott, in this instance, by cutting diplomatic, trade, academic, cultural and sporting ties with   This is a fundamental and peaceful expression of political power, which is a protected freedom under our law. According to the grassroots campaign, the Right to Movement, Palestine, Palestinian athletes are compelled to live in


exile or under the brutality of the Israeli state. They are denied the right to train, play and compete together due to the fragmentation imposed by the Israeli state. Sporting matches are raided by armed Israeli soldiers and facilities are   bombed by fighter jets. Palestinian football players have deliberately and cruelly been shot at and killed or maimed by members of the Israeli Defence Forces. This is surely not aligned with World Rugby’s vision of rugby as a “global sport    for all”. Unsurprisingly, there are no Palestinian players in Tel Aviv Heat. Sport cannot and should not be used to draw attention away from these realities, as SARU’s detractors would have World Rugby believe.


  1. Apart from the fact of its moral and political obligations, South Africa has legal obligations under, amongst other legal instruments, the Implementation of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Act, 2002 (Act 27 of 2002). This law incorporates the core crimes under international criminal law, namely the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression into our domestic law. It is well-documented by Palestinians, human rights organisations, scholars and activists that the systematic brutalisation of the Palestinian people by Israel    contravenes the human rights of the Palestinians and the core international crimes incorporated into South African


  1. The South African Human Sciences Research Council published a detailed report in 2009 drawn up by international jurists concluding that the system of domination by Israel over the Palestinians constitutes the crime of apartheid. Palestinian and Israeli rights organisations, Al-Haq, and B’Tselem, in addition to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have published detailed reports concluding that Israel is committing the crime against humanity of apartheid. Allegations of war crimes perpetrated by Israelis against Palestinians for the 2014 war in Gaza is currently pending before the International Criminal Court based in The


  1. The study by the Centre for Constitutional Rights (New York) in 2016 regarding the genocide of the Palestinian people, notes that genocide is defined, not by a particular form of violence, but by a general and pervasive violence.  Settler colonial regimes are structurally prone to genocide and may indulge in “genocidal moments” when they become frustrated by the resistance of a colonised or occupied people. Prominent human rights advocates and scholars have argued that the killing of Palestinians and their forceful expulsion from Mandatory Palestine since 1948, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the siege on Gaza, an open air prison, as well as the violence and discrimination directed at Palestinians by the Israeli government have violated a number of international human rights protections, including the prohibition on genocide, a violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of  the Crime of


  1. South Africa, and indeed the international community, including World Rugby, may not ignore Israel’s systematic human rights atrocities perpetrated in the context of its regime of apartheid settler colonialism. It is worth noting that sports boycotts and isolation against Apartheid South Africa played an important role in bringing about democracy Apartheid Israel’s continued acceptance and participation in world sport is largely due to the support and   protection that it receives from its Western Allies in Europe and North America. This is similar to South Africa’s history, which only changed globally in the mid-1980’s due to mass popular pressure from ordinary citizens in those countries  and uprisings against Apartheid in South Africa. We urge World Rugby, and indeed all international sports bodies, to heed the popular call from civil society to boycott and isolate Israel and be on the right side of history.


  1. As you may well be aware, like many other sports in South Africa, the history of rugby in South Africa has been a history of racial exclusion. In 1995, however, after the advent of democracy in South Africa, the late then President   Nelson Mandela gave his support to the South African rugby team by attending the final game, which South Africa That event was lauded by many as a symbol of racial reconciliation and signalled a new racially inclusive ethos in South African rugby. The pattern of racial exclusivity in South African rugby has by and large diminished, though much more needs to be done, and this cannot be undermined by allowing a team from Israel, a settler colonial apartheid state, to     play sport here.   Despite SARU having issued the invitation to Tel Aviv Heat in the first place this was quickly realised     as a serious error and the invitation withdrawn without delay. We credit SARU for rectifying it swiftly.


  1. In conclusion, it is respectfully proposed that World Rugby takes cognisance of the content of this letter, particularly for purposes of putting the allegations of “discrimination” levelled by Mr Dunwoodie into perspective. World Rugby is also urged to consider the rich history of eminent New Zealanders, such as John Minto who founded the organisation Halt All Racist Tours (HART), which successfully campaigned to stop rugby contact between New Zealand and   apartheid South Africa in the 1970s and


  1. Finally, we wish to commend World Rugby for its humanitarian and solidarity stance in uniting the international aid effort to support those affected by the devastating earthquakes in Syria and Türkiye.

We look forward to your reply. In solidarity,

Jaamia Galant (Ms) on behalf of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (Cape Town)

Iqbal Jassat (Mr) on behalf of Media Review Network -Phone: +27 11 837 3220 Email: /