Israel’s women’s basketball team secured a resounding 87-55 victory over Ireland at their Thursday afternoon EuroBasket 2025 qualifier in the Latvian capital Riga amid palpable tensions between the two sides off the court.
Most notably, the Irish team refused to shake hands with the Israelis before the contest began.
Ireland has been one of the least sympathetic of the EU’s member states towards Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas pogrom and Israel’s military response, with the government demanding a ceasefire and public opinion firmly on the side of the Palestinians.
Widespread calls within Ireland for a boycott of the game with Israel were held off by Basketball Ireland CEO John Feehan, who warned in an interview with national broadcaster RTE on Wednesday that the sport would lose a “generation of players” if the fixture failed to go ahead.
According to Feehan, Basketball Ireland was told by governing body Fiba Europe that they would be fined 80,000 euros ($86,000) if they did not play on Thursday and a further 100,000 euros ($107,000) fine if they did not fulfill the return game in November. Ireland would also face expulsion from the Fiba Women’s EuroBasket 2025 competition.
“I’m pretty sure we’d be hit pretty hard because we did actually ask was there an alternative to playing this game and all the rest of it, and from that perspective there isn’t,” Feehan said. He added that “the really big issue for us is we’d be effectively getting rid of a generation of players. We’d be out of international competition for the next five years effectively.”
Following Feehan’s comments, a fresh controversy arose over comments made by one of the Israeli players on Wednesday to an Israeli sports website accusing the Irish team of “antisemitism.”
“It’s known that they [Ireland] are quite antisemitic, it’s not a secret, so we are expecting an intense game,” the player, Dor Saar, said. “We need to show that we’re better than them and to win. We speak about it between ourselves, we know that they don’t love us so we will leave everything on the court, as always. And especially in this game.”
Basketball Ireland seized on Saar’s comments as an excuse to avoid pre-match greetings and other sporting protocols with the Israeli team.
“Basketball Ireland informed FIBA Europe yesterday that as a direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff — including inflammatory and wholly inaccurate accusations of antisemitism, published on official Israeli federation channels — that our players will not be partaking in traditional pre-match arrangements with our upcoming opponents,” the organization said in a statement. “This includes exchanging of gifts, formal handshakes before or after the game, while our players will line up for the national anthem by our bench, rather than center court. Basketball Ireland fully supports our players in their decision.”
In comments reported by the Irish Times, Israeli captain Eden Rotberg described the situation as “not easy.”
“I personally had friends who were murdered [on Oct. 7] and it has a very big impact, but in the end this is our job, sport heals, we are coming prepared and each of us know what she has to do here. There is no reason that we will not win,” she said.