Soccer-mad, pro-'Hatikva'

Survey gives soccer a big lead among Israeli Arab sports fans. Mac. Haifa is the most popular team by far.

Soccer is by far the most popular sport among Israeli Arabs, according to a recent survey conducted for Haaretz by the Dialog polling company. Of course, there is nothing new in this, and a poll of Israeli Jews would probably produce a similar result. What may be surprising, however, is the popularity among Israeli Arabs of basketball (8 percent ), swimming and walking/running (7 percent each ). Boxing, traditionally considered popular among Arabs, receives only 3 percent support.

The two most popular soccer teams among Israeli Arabs - whether due to their policy of hiring Arab players, geographic proximity to Arab communities, political affiliation or the fact that they are in mixed Arab-Jewish cities - are Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Tel Aviv.

Bnei Sakhnin, the only team representing an Arab locale in the Premier League, garnered only 10 percent support.

The poll also reveals that supporters of "Jewish" teams turn out in droves for national team games, unlike supporters of "Arab" teams. Older fans tend to support Arab teams, while younger ones opt for Jewish teams.

Half of the respondents declined to name their choice for best Israeli athlete of all time. Of those who did respond, an overwhelming majority opted for soccer players (Yossi Benayoun led, with 10 percent ), while only 3 percent chose a basketball player. (Mickey Berkowitz took 1 percent ). Five of the top seven soccer players are Arabs. Respondents with higher levels of education were more likely to choose Jewish athletes. They also reported witnessing more racist events at stadiums than those with only a high-school education.

A vast majority of respondents (69 percent ) said they attach importance to the existence of mixed Jewish-Arab teams. Those who reported experiencing racist incidents were less likely to agree with that statement, while supporters of the national soccer team were more likely to support the existence of mixed teams, as were younger fans.

Regarding the controversial issue of whether Arab players should sing the national anthem, a quarter of respondents refused to answer the question. Of those who did, 42 percent said they though Arab players should sing "Hatikva," with fans of the national team more likely to give this response. However, 69 percent noted that they had never been to a national team game.