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Thursday, June 9, 2011
Faith, rules at odds for Israeli player

Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- One of the stars of the Israeli women's national basketball team might miss the European championship because of a disagreement with the sport's governing authority over her religious observance and the team uniform.

University of Toledo and Israeli national team point guard Naama Shafir is an Orthodox Jew who wears a T-shirt under her jersey because Jewish modesty rules require her to cover her shoulders.

International basketball regulations require all members of a team to wear the same uniform. Organizers of the championships, FIBA Europe, have informed the Israelis she will not be able to play with her T-shirt.

Shafir said Thursday she won't play without it. Her religious observance never interfered with her American college basketball career, she said in a statement released by the Israel Basketball Association.

"I find it hard to understand why in Europe they can't behave like they do in the U.S." she said.

An Israeli appeal to a FIBA world basketball panel in Geneva was rejected on technical grounds on Wednesday.

The judge did not rule on the content of the Israeli appeal but decided that he had no jurisdiction because the Israelis should have appealed to FIBA Europe, according to Benjamin Cohen, head of the FIBA legal affairs department in Geneva.

In Munich, a spokesman for FIBA Europe would not comment.

The Israelis still hope organizers will make an exception for Shafir and are planning another appeal, said Moti Aksmit, a spokesman for the Israel Basketball Association. The tournament is scheduled to begin June 18 in Poland.

"This is a matter of principle, and we truly do not understand why this is problematic," he said.

Born in northern Israel, the 21-year-old Shafir is the only Orthodox woman known to have received an athletic scholarship from an NCAA Division I school. Her team has made an effort to ensure she does not drive or practice on the Sabbath and receives kosher food.

In 2009, Shafir told The Associated Press in Toledo that she wanted to be an inspiration for Orthodox girls who hope to play sports.

"Before, nobody thought that we could do both," she said.