Basketball: Irish women's team refuse to shake hands with Israeli opponents

Israel went on to defeat Ireland 87-57.
Israel went on to defeat Ireland 87-57. Photo credit: Getty Images

The Irish women's national basketball team refused to shake hands with the Israeli women's national team ahead of the first game of the 2025 EuroBasket qualifier in Riga, Latvia on Thursday (local time).

Basketball Ireland, the governing body of the sport, said in a statement that it told FIBA Europe on Wednesday the team would not take part in pre-match formalities, including shaking hands with Israel prior to tipoff, 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".

"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 centre court. Basketball Ireland fully supports our players in their decision," the statement continued.

On Wednesday, Israeli basketball player Dor Sa'ar called the Irish team "quite antisemitic", in an interview posted on the Israeli Basketball Association's website.

"It's known that they are quite anti-Semitic and it's no secret, and maybe that's why a strong game is expected," Sa'ar said.

"We have to show that we're better than them and win. We talk about it among ourselves. We know they don't like us and we will leave everything on the field always and in this game."

Prior to tipoff, Ireland stood for the national anthem by the team bench while Israel stood near center court. Players did not shake hands.  

Israel went on to defeat Ireland 87-57.

After the game, Israel head coach Sharon Drucker said he had "never seen such things" in his life.

"There was no game where you don't give concessions, shake hands, congratulate each other. They took a step in an absolute way and they received their punishment today."

Sa'ar, who made her Israel debut, added: "It's always fun to represent the country, certainly at a time like this. I'm happy that we won and let's just continue like this.  

"I don't want to get into the political issue but it gives drive and motivation, we screamed the anthem and sang with pride, we need to show the whole world that we are Israel and we will stay here."

According to Basketball Ireland, head coach James Weldon said his team "showed incredible maturity in how they handled a very pressured week".

"It's been difficult for all of us but we kept it tight and kept it together and all I can say is that we did not back down out there today," Weldon continued.

Weldon said he "preferred" not to speak on what happened pregame but said the team didn't "engage in the pre-match activities as a direct result of those unwarranted and unacceptable comments from the Israeli camp about our players".

"It was hugely disappointing, we came here for a game of basketball, we wanted to win but didn't come out on the right side of the result on this occasion," Weldon added.

"We had three international debutants in this game, we're building a squad, so there's positives to take from this game."

Basketball Ireland faced calls to boycott the game against Israel but said they would be fined up to $86,000 by FIBA Europe "if they failed to fulfill the fixture against Israel, with an additional fine of $107,000 if the return fixture wasn't played". Basketball Ireland would have also been removed from the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2025 qualifiers and the next qualifying campaign with the governing body calling it an "effective five-year ban".

CNN has reached out to FIBA and the Israeli Basketball Association for comment.