In a notable gesture of protest, the Irish women’s basketball team declined to shake hands with their Israeli counterparts before their first qualifying match for the Women’s European Basketball Championship 2025 in Riga, Latvia, last Thursday.
Basketball Ireland, the governing body for the sport in Ireland, informed FIBA Europe on Wednesday that the team would not participate in pre-game traditions, including the handshake with the Israeli team, “as a direct result of recent comments made by Israeli players and coaching staff,” including “completely inaccurate and provocative accusations of antisemitism, published on the Israeli federation’s official channels.”
The statement from Basketball Ireland further noted that the team would also abstain from exchanging gifts and the customary pre or post-game handshakes, opting instead to line up for the national anthem on the benches rather than the main court. “Basketball Ireland fully supports its players in their decision,” the statement emphasized.
Israeli basketball player Dor Saar labeled the Irish team as “completely antisemitic” in an interview published on the Israeli Basketball Association’s website on Wednesday. Saar stated, “It’s known they are antisemitic, it’s not a secret, and maybe that’s why the game is expected to be tough. We need to show we are better than them and win. We talk about it among ourselves, we know they don’t like us, and we’ll leave everything on the court always and in this game.”
During the national anthems, the Irish team stood by the benches, while the Israeli team stood near center court. The players did not exchange handshakes, and the Israeli team secured a win with a score of 87-57.
Following the match, Israel’s coach, Sharon Drucker, expressed that he had “never seen anything like this in his life.” Drucker added, “I have been in sports for many years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. There has never been a game where you don’t make concessions, shake hands, and congratulate each other. They took an absolute step and got their punishment today.”
James Weldon, the Irish coach, praised his team for showing “incredible maturity in how they handled a very intense week.” He remarked, “It was tough for all of us, but we kept it together and stayed united, and all I can say is that we didn’t back down there today.”
Despite the disappointment, Weldon acknowledged, “We came here for a basketball game, wanted to win, but unfortunately didn’t come out on the right side of the score this time. We are building a team, so there are positives to take from this game.”
Basketball Ireland faced calls to boycott the match against the Israeli team but stated that FIBA Europe would impose a fine of up to $86,000 if they didn’t play, with an additional fine of $107,000 for not playing the return match. There was also a potential risk of being removed from the European qualifiers, effectively resulting in a “five-year ban.”
CNN has reached out to FIBA, the Israeli Basketball Association, and Basketball Ireland for comments on the incident.