Tel Aviv Heat, the Israeli team at the centre of the controversy surrounding SA Rugby's new competition, the Mzansi Challenge, says the decision to withdraw their invitation to the tournament came as a massive surprise.
READ | SA Jewish Board slams SA Rugby's withdrawal of Israeli team from new competition
Last Friday, the governing body for rugby in South Africa announced their decision to withdraw an invitation to Tel Aviv Heat, who were set to play in the Mzansi Challenge.
"We have listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups and have taken this decision to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division, notwithstanding the fact that Israel is a full member of World Rugby and the IOC," said Mark Alexander, president of the South African Rugby Union said at the time.
In a statement released on social media and their website, Tel Aviv Heat confirmed that at no time had SA Rugby approached them to discuss the decision.
"The Tel Aviv Heat was surprised and disappointed to learn of the decision taken by the South African Rugby Union (SARU) to withdraw its invitation to the Tel Aviv Heat to compete in the upcoming 2023 Mzansi Challenge," the statement says.
"Though the statement issued publicly by SARU indicated they had 'listened to the opinions of important stakeholder groups', SARU did not consult with the Tel Aviv Heat, the Israel Rugby Union, or the Israeli Embassy in South Africa prior to the decision.
"Since its founding in 2021, the Tel Aviv Heat's growth and success on and off the field has been driven by its rewarding and supportive team culture that brings together players, staff, and a community of passionate supporters that bridge multiple cultures, races, nationalities, and religions.
"Blocking participation in the Mzansi Challenge has deprived the Tel Aviv Heat of a strategic opportunity to continue its development as an elite professional rugby team and to build valuable brand equity in South Africa, and other Mzansi Challenge markets and unjustly punishes and demoralizes players, coaches, staff, and supporters in the midst of preparing for the competition.
"Tragically, though SARU indicated the intention 'to avoid the likelihood of the competition becoming a source of division', the decision to block the Tel Aviv Heat from participating in the Mzansi Challenge will only sow further division in South Africa and beyond by bolstering voices dedicated to vilify, demonize, and censor those who do not share their views.
"In the end, SARU's decision runs contrary to the spirit and core values of rugby, promotes the politics of hatred and retribution over the best interests of the sport, and exposes the Tel Aviv Heat and its supporters to being targeted by aggressive, hateful language designed to intimidate, delegitimize, and silence," the statement concluded.
While SA Rugby has yet to name a team to take the place of Tel Aviv Heat, they have earmarked the Mexican Rhinos to replace them, pending approval from the General Council.
The Mzansi Challenge kicks off on 24 March with the Diables (Spain), Simbas (Kenya), Welwitschias (Namibia), and Goshawks (Zimbabwe) joining South African provinces, Leopards, Valke, Boland Kavaliers, Eastern Province, Border Bulldogs, and SWD Eagles.