Interview / 'How Could There Be No Qualified Arabs to Coach in the Premier League?'

Kiryat Shmona's Abbas Suan speaks out against racism in Israeli society and soccer.

Veteran midfielder Abbas Suan knows that as a representative of an entire group within Israeli society, he can't tiptoe around questions about politics.

Suan, who plays for Kiryat Shmona and is a former member of Israel's national soccer team, is part of an international organization dedicated to eradicating racism from sports. He also lectures when possible on equality in sports and Arab-Israeli tolerance.

Two months ahead of the elections for the 18th Knesset, Suan presents his j'accuse to Haaretz.

"I don't want any of the candidates as my prime minister," he says. "We here in Sakhnin have had enough of their promises. They shouldn't bother coming to Sakhnin to make more promises. They talked too much and never did anything. No prime minister until today has done something for the Arab community. I don't have a preference, but if I have to pick then Tzipi Livni, because no one really knows her. We know Bibi and Barak too well."

So who represents you now?

"We have only one representative who truly does anything - Ahmad Tibi. They say that people who aren't wanted seem to do something important, and Tibi does things for us which give us hope. He is more important to the Arab community than anyone who just talks the talk because he walks the walk. If people would listen to him, they would understand he is not just against everybody."

Why have you been careful with political statements until now?

"I always need to walk a tightrope when I discuss politics because whether or not I want to, I represent an entire community. I learned over the years that my words mean something. I always discuss coexistence and lecture to promote the issue on a practical basis, but each time anew people like Avigdor Liberman talk about transfering Israeli Arabs and renews the gap between the sides. I don't respond to these kinds of people. I despise Liberman. A man who talks out of hatred and racism and gets so much focus from the media only makes the problem worse."

You still feel discrimination?

"No doubt there's discrimination. It's enough to come to Sakhnin, a place with 30,000 residents, to see we have one community center in contrast to Misgav, which has a plethora of them and is just a few minutes from Sakhnin.

"I teach in Misgav and they have facilities our children can only dream of. The situation today is better than in the past, but our children still play in neighborhoods and not in organized places. When I retire from soccer my dream is to work with youth. I want to find young Arab players and give them the tools to succeed. Only later do I want to be a coach, and I'm sure I can do it in the Premier League."

It wasn't easy for you on the national team, was it?

"People don't understand it's every players dream to be on the national squad. When I scored the equalizer against Ireland I saw everyone jumping, going crazy with joy, and I felt like I was on cloud nine. But even in these moments you feel as an Arab player you represent the community, its pain, its joy. It's hard for people to understand this double role."

It won't be simple.

"True, I don't know how many Arabs could coach in the Premier League. There are a lot of young Jewish Israelis who weren't even players, and they get a chance before any Arab, no matter how senior he is. I don't understand how no owner here has appointed an Arab coach. It seems they're not ready to make such a move. It's inconceivable that no Arab is qualified to take on Maccabi Petah Tikva or another team. I would expect owners to at least start with assistant coaches to open the door.

"Najwan Grayeb played for all the big clubs in Israel and won titles, trained and played in England, yet no one even offered him to be an assistant coach. It's easiest to blame the fans, but the owners can't hide their part in it."

Perhaps you and (Hapoel Tel Aviv player) Walid Badir should have been more opinionated?

"Badir and I are not the same story because I developed in an Arab team. Badir had a wonderful career, but always with the big Jewish clubs. I'm more associated with the Arab segment. When Sakhnin plays Beitar Jerusalem, they curse me and not Sakhnin players. The fact that I came out of the Arab system serves as an example for many kids."

But now their symbol is at Kiryat Shmona?

"I'll do what I can to succeed here, but in the end I'll return to Sakhnin and work with Mazen Genaim, the mayor. One day I'll get the sports portfolio to help kids in the city. I don't know when I'll return to Sakhnin, but I'm on a mission here and have to do this for my city."

You'll have to recruit Arab businessmen to make this happen, something that doesn't happen nowadays.

"Arabs also have things to improve on. Bnei Sakhnin is a community project, and it can't be that major businessmen don't lend a hand to strengthen the club. The time has come for Arab businessmen to also give money. After all, we have almost a million fans across the country, and this club's potential is enormous. Everyone should wake up."