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Minister accepts Irish players in ‘difficult position’

Minister of State for Sport Thomas Byrne says Basketball Ireland’s decision to go ahead with today’s women’s EuroBasket qualifier against Israel will remain a matter for the sport’s governing body but acknowledged that it may put individual players in a “very difficult position”.

The match has been overshadowed by a campaign for Ireland’s women’s team to boycott the fixture, which will be played in Latvia due to the ongoing war in Gaza.

Basketball Ireland insist they cannot afford the financial or competitive implications of not playing the game, with CEO John Feehan telling RTÉ Sport on Tuesday that the potential sanctions could set the Ireland women’s team back a decade.

Several players have opted not to travel for the game, which will be played on neutral territory after Ireland refused to host the return fixture – due to be played in November – first instead.

On Wednesday, Basketball Ireland responded to accusations of anti-semitism made by Israeli player, Dor Sa’ar, against the Irish women’s team, calling the comments “inflammatory and wholly inaccurate”, adding that they had reported the comments to governing body FIBA Europe.

Israel head coach Sharon Drucker also said that the Irish “did not respect” what sport symbolises after he and his players had posed for pictures with armed Israeli soldiers at the weekend.

With the match against Israel set to go ahead at 4pm in the Rimi Olympic Centre, Riga, Minister Byrne said in a statement that the Government recognised Basketball Ireland’s autonomy in making the decision to fulfil the fixture and noted that other nations had “continued to honour fixture schedules with Israel”.

“The Irish Government continues to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, the unconditional release of all hostages and for full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access. The Government does not have a role in relation to the setting, or fulfilment, of sporting fixtures by any sporting organisation, including Basketball Ireland,” Minister Byrne said.

“Ultimately, such matters are a decision for the sporting organisations themselves, which are independent and autonomous entities. In particular, the international federations (FIBA in the case of basketball), have a leadership role for their global games and it is at this level that strategic decisions should be taken rather than by individual NGBs.

“Basketball Ireland has made the decision to honour its fixture commitment. It has set out its reasons for doing so and we must acknowledge its independence and autonomy in arriving at this decision. It should also be acknowledged that this situation places individual players in a very difficult position.

“It should be noted that sporting entities in other countries have continued to honour fixture schedules with Israel.”

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