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Every year, just before Rosh Hashanah, the world media gets excited about the upcoming Yom Kippur; someone somewhere picks up a telephone and makes a call to an Israeli player in that country, gets a few quotes about the customs of the holiday, and puts together a story for the paper the next day. Who would have believed that a small statement from such an interview would spark a huge storm in Israel?

Just hours after the Spanish daily, AS, published an interview with Dudu Awat in which he said that if the match were not brought forward, he would play in Deportivo La Coruna's game against Real Sociedad on Yom Kippur, the Israel international goalkeeper was forced to repel criticism that came at him from every direction.

"I don't think that anyone has the right to judge me," Awat said yesterday. "I do what is good for me and I don't have to account to anyone. I have done nothing wrong, and I won't be doing wrong to anyone if I play on Yom Kippur. Observing Yom Kippur is not the most important thing for me.

"In any event, I intend to make up the fasting hours that I miss, so no one should preach morals to me and mess with my head and tell me what or what not to do.

"I don't think it offends anyone," Awat continued. "I respect the religious public, and anyone who wants to can ask the Jewish community here in Spain about me. Whether I fast or not is my business and no one else's.

"So far, no one from the Israel Football Association has spoken to me, and I don't believe there is anything to discuss. This is my life; I am a free person and I don't owe explanations to anyone."

Mounting pressure

Pressure on Awat has come from many directions - talkbacks on Internet sites, friends, players and even the Knesset.

Shas faction leader MK Yaakov Margi took the opportunity to grab some headlines and passed on an urgent letter to IFA chairman Itche Menachem, demanding that Awat be suspended from the national team.

"Someone who plays on Yom Kippur grossly tramples the values of the Jewish people and is not worthy of representing the country," Margi wrote. "I call on the player to announce immediately that he apologizes for his statement and will refrain from playing on the day. I hope that Awat understands that being a son of the Jewish people places more obligations on you than being a member of a country club."

Avi Cohen, chairman of the Players Union, had a similar experience in 1980, when he played for Liverpool against Southampton on Yom Kippur. "As a friend, I advise Dudu Awat not to play on Yom Kippur," Cohen said yesterday. "I made the mistake of my life when I played for Liverpool on Yom Kippur. As someone who has been through and paid a high price from an image point of view, I urge Dudu not to play.

"He does not have to break the rules of the club and be sanctioned, but should tell the team that he is not a private individual but an ambassador of the State of Israel and they should respect him," Cohen suggested.