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Spain-Israel water polo match leads to diplomatic incident

Israel's Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev called on her Spanish counterpart to act after political protest led to the fixture's change of venue.

Maya Shechori, de la selección femenina de waterpolo de Israel intenta pasar la pelota durante los Juegos Europeos de Bakú 2015.
Matthias Hangst

A water polo match between Spain and Israel has resulted in a diplomatic exchange between the two nations after pressure from the Catalan leftist party Popular Unity Candidacy (CUP) led to the game being temporarily called off.

The match, a Women’s Water Polo World League fixture, was originally scheduled to be played in Molins de Rei but the CUP lodged a protest on the basis that the Catalan municipality in 2013 pledged its support to the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international campaign organized and coordinated by the Palestinian BDS National Committee whose stated aim is to force Israel to meet what it describes as the country’s “obligations under international law.”

In an attempt to defuse the situation it was proposed that the game be moved to Barcelona but the CUP again protested and it was postponed while a solution was sought.

Members of the Royal Spanish Swimming Federation, its Israeli counterpart and the International Swimming Federation held lengthy talks to seek an alternative venue. The High Performance Centre in Sant Cugat outside Barcelona was eventually selected, although the Israeli delegation stated its preference to return to the original plan given that such centres in Spain are used for training and practice games but not official ones. It was originally proposed that the game be played behind closed doors but spectators will be allowed to attend the match, which starts at 18:00 on Tuesday. 

Israel sport and culture minister issues statement

The Spanish national water polo team will face Israel despite protests.
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The Spanish national water polo team will face Israel despite protests.Diaro AS

Meanwhile, the Israeli Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev has issued a statement calling on her Spanish counterpart, José Girao, to take the matter in hand and ensure “that the municipality of Molins de Rei act in accordance with international Olympic regulations and allow all athletes to compete as equals in sporting events.”

Regev added: “BDS movements are clearly anti-Semitic in their nature and operate with the intention of harming the State of Israel and its citizens.”

The stand-off was made all the more unusual by the recent Women’s European Water Polo Championship, which was staged in Barcelona with the Israeli team participating and passed without incident or any comment from the CUP.


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