On Monday, at the height of Hebrew Book Week in Israel and soccer's UEFA European Championship, the 2012 International Writers Football Tournament also kicked off in Israel. For three days, 45 German, Italian and Israeli writers set aside politics and their quotidian serious expressions in order to delve into the deeper meaning of soccer and learn about other cultures.
For the Israelis, everything is political; they view the tournament as one more opportunity to turn some foreigners into honorary ambassadors for Israel.
After 30 minutes of play the German writers' national team scored the first goal against the Israelis. The spectators, virtually all of them relatives of the home-team star, author Roi Shani, trotted out the oldest excuse in the book, "The sun was in their eyes."
In the second half, after numerous water breaks in the sizzling heat of Haifa's Neve Sha'anan stadium - which, how symbolic, was built in honor of the 11 Israeli athletes who died in the 1972 Munich Olympics - the Israelis scored a goal (by Lior Garti ) and the game ended in a tie.
The Italian writers' national team watched from the bleachers and learned the players' tricks. For them, the purpose of their team was to expose their Italian readership to the sight of their authors in shorts, doing the things everyone does.
"The writer is not only a thinking, lonely man," says the team captain, author Francesco Trento. Trento explains that Italy recently passed a law, similar to one that was passed in France and has been proposed in Israel, that sets limits on retail discounts for books in order to encourage competition and benefit the writers. He says he heard about the Israeli bill and did the math in his head: "Five euros a book really is very cheap," Trento says, referring to the now-infamous "Four for NIS 100" sales campaigns.
The International Writers Football Tournament was founded in 2002 by the Italian national team. In 2007 the German team approached Etgar Keret about forming an Israeli team that would participate. Keret contacted his friend and colleague Assaf Gavron, and the idea took off. Participants include Eli Eliahu, Mordechai Alon, Eli Pomerantz and Yaheli Sobol. They practice in Holon every Sunday.
What's the connection between writing and soccer? According to Shani, who has published two books, "There's no soccer literature in Israel, but the goal is to bring cultures together. They come to Haifa and turn into ambassadors. There's one Turkish player on the German team, and he was very impressed with Haifa."
The Turkish team was invited to the tournament but did not respond.
This was Israel's second time hosting the competition. The first, in December 2008 in Kfar Sava, ended in Israel triumphing 4-2 over Germany, thanks to goals by Nir Baram and Udi Sharabani.
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