Sports Emerges As New Front In Israel-Hamas War

by Susan Crabtree at

It was billed as a way to protect the security of Israeli hockey players amid fallout over the Israeli-Hamas war until a backlash condemned the action. 

The International Ice Hockey Federation, or IIHF, first banned Israeli athletes from international competitions, then abruptly reversed that decision on Wednesday. 

The Federation this week determined that it did indeed have the “safety and security support needed” to allow Israel, which won the silver medal last year in its division, to take place in a tournament being held in Bulgaria. Previously, the IIHF had decided to exclude the Israeli team from all of its competitions “for the time being” out of concern for athletes’ safety.  

Exacerbating the tensions was a prior decision by the IIHF, after Hamas attacks on Israel on Oct. 7, to move a portion of the competition originally to be held in Israel to Bulgaria. 

The move to ban the Israeli hockey players from all international competition did not sit well with the Israel team or the National Hockey League, which expressed “significant concerns” about the decision and stated that it had been assured that the IIHF was not intentionally sanctioning the Israeli Federation.

But the controversy is far from over. While the IIHF reversed course about the upcoming tournament in Bulgaria, it said decisions about future tournaments, including the 2024 men’s and women’s world championships, would be made on a case-by-case basis.

“A one-week tournament with the participation of the Israeli national team without any guarantee about safety and security of all people involved is irresponsible,” the IIHF said in a statement.

On Sunday, the actions against Israeli athletes took a far darker turn. An Israeli soccer player for a Turkish club was detained by Turkish authorities and interrogated, then suspended and sent to Israel after he displayed a message of support during Sunday’s game for the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.