Players from Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod exchanging blows during a brawl following a soccer match
Players from Hapoel Ramat Gan and Bnei Lod exchanging blows during a brawl following a soccer match April 20, 2012. Photo by Sharon Bukov
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Friday's on-field brawl between players and officials of Bnei Lod and Hapoel Ramat Gan proves that Israeli soccer is sick. Very sick, in fact. There, I've said it. Now all that remains is to make sure no one makes the mistake of thinking the sickness is confined to the playing field. It would be all too easy to dismiss soccer's problem as a bubble inside Israeli society rather than a symptom of a sick society.

This, after all, is a place where people don't understand why a senior officer should be drummed out of the Israel Defense Forces for brutally assaulting a demonstrator; where a nightclub can be more dangerous than Russian roulette; where an off-the-cuff comment to a fellow driver can lead to a beating and where some towns are off-limits to certain law-abiding citizens. But soccer is definitely sick.

The potential for violence is far greater at a soccer game than any other event in Israel: the gladiatorial stage, the pumped-up players, the actions on the field, the fans and the amplification of existing social, political and economic schisms all play a role. Violence has been festering in Israeli soccer, like a wound, for years. In recent weeks it erupted with a force that should have taken no one by surprise.

Unless we stop talking about a diseased part of Israeli society and start recognizing that society as a whole is infected, this plague will visit the homes of each and every one of us. Our soccer stadiums will soon no longer be able to contain the evil.

Just as guilty as those who say the problem is soccer, not society, are those who shrug their shoulders and say that nothing can be done, that the patient is on his deathbed so there's no point in treatment. Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon is just as guilty as the prime minister, the chief of staff, the police commissioner, the education minister and the sports and culture minister. This is taking place on their watch. No single person is to blame and no single person has the cure. Unless everyone joins the effort, unless a national emergency is declared, the events we saw on Friday in Ramat Gan will look like a picnic. We have been warned.


Shlomi Barzel is Sports Editor at Haaretz

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