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Kick Them Out of Israeli Soccer

Haaretz Editorial
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Maccabi Tel Aviv players Omer Atzili and Dor Micha in 2020.
Maccabi Tel Aviv players Omer Atzili and Dor Micha in 2020.Credit: Nir Keidar
Haaretz Editorial

The transcribed text messages between soccer players Omer Atzili and Dor Micha, made public this week on Channel 13 News, ostensibly reveal the planned and methodical way they had sexual relations with girls whom they knew to be underage, and even videotaped their actions. Question marks surround the way police handled the investigation of the two, which was closed two years ago for lack of guilt. Exclamation marks surround the decision of Alona Barkat and Ya’akov Shahar, owners of the teams that employ Atzili and Micha, to bring them on board.

When the affair hit the news, long before the police investigation ended, Mitch Goldhar, who owns Maccabi Tel Aviv, the team on which the two men played at the time, decided to cut them loose. Goldhar made an extraordinary decision in view of the norms of local professional soccer, and made peace with the heavy professional price he paid to avoid the moral stain of keeping them on the team. After a brief period during which they had to play abroad, they returned to Israel. Atzili signed with Maccabi Haifa, owned by Shahar, and became its shining star, while Micha joined Hapoel Be’er Sheva, owned by Barkat. Shahar and Barkat cited the closing of the case against them to legitimize their hire.

The texts that were made public bring the defensive wall put up by Barkat and Shahar, along with Oren Hasson, chairman of the Israel Football Association, which is responsible for the national team that Atzili was invited to join. But they can no longer rely on the closure of the case against the pair. The fact that they play for the national champion soccer club – or any self-respecting club – casts a long shadow over Israeli soccer even without a criminal conviction. The affair of singing star Eyal Golan, against whom charges of statutory rape were likewise dropped, must not be repeated.

Soccer plays a significant role in the socialization and education of young people, and the continued position of these two men on center stage in the sport sends a dangerous message to male fans, and an insulting and alienating one to female fans. One’s athletic ability must not grant you immunity when answering to accusations of shocking behavior toward underage girls.

On Thursday it was reported that the soccer association was to hold discussions regarding Atzili and Micha, and that the association is aware of the criticism being made. The association, and club owners Barkat and Shahar, should announce that the two men will no longer play on the teams they own. Thus, an incident that threatens to stain the whole sport would instead become a source of pride.

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