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Maccabiah ban on woman cricketer lands up in court

  • JackSportNaomiEytan
The 20th Maccabiah begins in Israel on July 4 and already the cricket event has been mired in controversy. A decision by the Maccabi Games Organising Committee to ban a girl from playing in the Israeli junior cricket team, has ended up in court.
by JACK MILNER | Jun 29, 2017

Naomi Eytan, 14, has played in the Israeli national under-19 cricket team all season - the only girl in the squad of the top 15 youth players in the country. With the Maccabiah set to start early next month, she expected to join her teammates as they battle against Jewish cricketers from around the world, but was told by the organisers that she can’t play because it is “for men only”.

Backed by the Israel Cricket Association (ICA) and many fellow Israeli cricketers, she’s now campaigning to beat officialdom and take her place on the field. The ICA is vowing to appeal to Sports Minister Miri Regev.

Eytan, from Tel Aviv, told the Times of Israel that she first heard about the decision to prevent her playing two weeks ago. “I am very angry and disappointed that they won’t let me play,” she said.

Eytan’s mother, Carmel, said they did not deliberately plan to make a public campaign to reverse the decision, but that word spread through social media among local cricket players who have been very supportive. “There has been so much support it is very moving,” she said.

Eytan explained her position: “If there was a girls’ team I wouldn’t have a problem, but there are no girls in Israel who play cricket and I was chosen to represent Israel as one of the 15 best. What kind of message is the Maccabiah sending to girls and to the world? Instead of being proud of me, they are sending me home because of rules and regulations that it is unclear who made up.”

The decision has caused a furore among many local adult players, who are seeking to help Eytan compete.

Last week Roy Hessing, spokesman for the Maccabi Games Organising Committee, said the committee’s decision was based on regulations laid down by the International Cricket Council (ICC), the world governing body for the sport.

Hessing explained that ICC regulations relating to gender separation were intended to make the sport fair and safe. “There will not be a precedent set for Eytan,” he said. “It is not a rational request in relation to international regulations.”

Addressing Eytan’s campaign and the support she has received from many local cricketers, Hessing added: “We operate according to regulations and not public demands.”

The particular rule cited by Hessing was from the ICC regulations regarding transgender players. It states: “Most relevantly for present purposes, because of the significant advantages in size, strength and power enjoyed (on average) by males over females from puberty onward… it is necessary to have separate competition categories for males and females in order to preserve the safety, fairness and integrity of the sport for the benefit of all of its participants and stakeholders.”

If necessary, Hessing said, the Maccabi Games Organsing Committee is prepared to defend its position in court.

Carmel Eytan dismissed as “unreasonable” a decision to ban her daughter on the basis or regulations concerning transgender players.

The ICA has put itself squarely on Eytan’s side, with director Naor Gudker appealing to Maccabiah officials to show some flexibility. “In the past, a female player from Beersheba played together with the men in the European championships after organisers let her,” Gudker said. “I am optimistic that perhaps the decision will be changed. She is a talented and outstanding girl and it is a shame. I would expect them to let her play.”

ICA Chairman Steve Leigh said he intends to contact Culture and Sports Minister Regev about the matter. “We selected Naomi for the team based on professional criteria, and we didn’t think that it required a special request from the Maccabiah,” he said.

“We were surprised that she can’t participate and it doesn’t seem fair. The minister is a politician and a woman, and she’s in a position to help, and so we’ll ask her to get involved.”

Eytan also sent a letter to Galia Wolloch, president of Na’amat, an Israeli women’s rights organisation. “I worked hard, I practised, and I was accepted to Israel’s youth cricket team. One girl among 14 boys. I was so proud! But then reality gave me a slap across the face…

“I hope you can help me because I understand that we need to fight for equality and that women really can’t do what men can do - meaning, they are capable but the world does not always let them.”

Eytan and her mother, who is a spokesman for the Na’amat Israeli women’s rights organisation, along with Na’amat itself, filed the request at the Tel Aviv District Court against the Maccabi Games Organising Committee and Maccabiah International.

Although it is rare, women have played in men’s cricket teams in semi-professional and even professional leagues. Most recently British-born Sarah Taylor in 2015 played a match for Northern Districts against Port Adelaide in Australia.

 

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