The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has reversed its decision to bar Israel from participating in an upcoming tournament due to security concerns. The IIHF announced on Wednesday that Israel can join the Division III under-20 world championship in Bulgaria later this month.
IIHF confirms security measures for Israel’s participation
The IIHF said it has confirmed with the Bulgarian authorities that the necessary security measures will be in place to address the risks of Israel’s participation. The IIHF expressed its gratitude to the Ministry of Youth and Sport, Ministry of Interior, the local police and all its stakeholders for their support and assistance in this matter.
The IIHF added that it will take ensuring tournaments – including the 2024 men’s and women’s world championships – on a case-by-case basis, again citing safety and security. Further IIHF council meetings are planned to discuss the issue in February and March before decisions are made.
Israel-Hamas war not mentioned by IIHF
None of the IIHF’s recent statements on Israel make any mention of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war in Gaza, which has claimed more than 2,000 lives and displaced over half a million people since May 2023. The conflict has sparked international condemnation and calls for a ceasefire from various countries and organizations.
The IIHF had previously said that allowing Israel to play in a one-week tournament without any guarantee about safety and security of all people involved was irresponsible. The IIHF did not specify what kind of threats or incidents it was concerned about, but some media reports suggested that anti-Israel protests or attacks could occur in Bulgaria or other host countries.
NHL expresses concerns over Israeli ban
The National Hockey League (NHL), which works closely with the IIHF in planning many international events, said last weekend it had significant concerns over the Israeli ban and expressed those, while trying to understand the rationale behind the decision.
The NHL said it understood that the decision was intended to be temporary in nature and rested solely on the IIHF’s overriding concern for the safety and security of all of its stakeholders, including both the Israeli national team and other participating teams. The NHL also said it had been assured that the decision was not intended to be a sanction against the Israeli Federation and would not affect its status as a full member in good standing with the IIHF.
The NHL urged the IIHF to take whatever steps necessary to address its concerns as expeditiously as possible so that Israeli national teams are not unfairly excluded from future events for which they are eligible and have qualified.
Israel welcomes IIHF’s reversal
The Israeli Ice Hockey Federation welcomed the IIHF’s reversal and thanked the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation for its efforts to ensure Israel’s participation. The Israeli Federation said it was looking forward to competing in the tournament and representing its country with pride and dignity.
The Israeli Federation also thanked the NHL and other ice hockey federations and associations for their support and solidarity. The Israeli Federation said it hoped that the IIHF would continue to uphold its values of inclusiveness, diversity and respect for all its members and players.
The Division III under-20 world championship is scheduled to take place from January 25 to January 31 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Israel will face teams from Bulgaria, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Mexico and South Africa.