Disabled Israeli Athlete Banned for Allegedly Competing on Yom Kippur

Table tennis champ denies breach of ban on Israeli athletes from competing on Yom Kippur, but may miss 2016 Paralympics.

The Israel Sports Association for the Disabled banned a table tennis player from representing Israel for two years, saying that she played in a tournament last Yom Kippur. Yael Elbag, in her fifties, was accused of participating in a doubles match on the Day of Atonement, thus ignoring a Culture and Sports Ministry directive banning Israeli athletes from competing on Yom Kippur.

Elbag, the 2011 Israeli champion, became disabled several years ago following a disease. On September 12 she flew to the Czech Republic for a tournament that was to be played during the Yom Kippur weekend. Elbag says she was told that she was prohibited from playing, but was unaware it was a directive, and therefore told her partner in the doubles tournament she was injured, thus enabling her to refrain from actually playing on Yom Kippur. She adds that she wasn't representing Israel, and that the letters ISR, appearing next to her name in the tournament, were no more than a technicality.

Three weeks after returning to Israel Elbag was summoned to the association's disciplinary court to answer charges, filed by the association's legal advisor, that she "participated in a tournament subject to the explicit commitment on her part not to participate on games taking place on Yom Kippur, according to the Culture and Sport Ministry directive."

The evidence was the tournament's timetable, which was published before the games began, and, according to Elbag, was later updated. Despite her denials and efforts to prove she didn't play – presenting text messages written at the time of her scheduled match – she was found guilty and was duly suspended from representing Israel for two years.

The decision was based on the precedent of two Israeli windsurfers who participated in the 1988 Olympic event on Yom Kippur, and were banned from representing Israel. The two, brothers Ran and Dan Tortan, saw their appeals against the disciplinary committee's decision rejected by the District and Supreme Court.

Still, responding to Haaretz's query, the Culture and Sports Ministry clarified that the said directive refers only to official competitions, in which the athletes represent Israel. Apart from denying that she played on Yom Kippur, Elbag told Haaretz she funded the trip and registered individually, not as part of the Israeli national team. "If there is such a directive, it is relevant only for athletes representing Israel, such as the windsurfers in the Seoul Olympics, she said referring to the case of the Tortan brothers. The directive cannot refer to a private person, such as myself, who travels without a coach, and doesn't play with an Israeli uniform. They say I represent Israel but they don't even supply me with a shirt. I'm an independent person taking a trip alone to some forsaken Czech village, but I'm dependant on them, because they're the only way one can register for tournaments."

Even before the disciplinary court's decision reached Elbag, and before she could appeal it, she discovered the association had canceled her registration to a tournament in Belgium that was crucial in Elbag's effort to reach the 2016 Paralympic Games. Elbag immediately appealed to the Tel Aviv District Court, and following the intervention of Judge Gideon Ginat, the association backtracked, and tried to re-register Elbag, but it was too late.

"Elbag promised a committee that she wouldn't play on Yom Kippur, said Avi Lerman, director general of the The Israel Sports Association for the Disabled. This is the first time I'm encountering such a case. I have nothing against her; it was the court, not me, that concluded she played on Yom Kippur. True, there's no law, but there is a directive, especially when she is listed as Israeli."

Moti Milrod