Beitar Jerusalem to Sign Two Muslim Players Despite Fans’ Protests

Soccer team's owner insists that he will sign two Muslim players from a Chechnyan team, even as fans hurl abuse and racists slogans in dissent.

Beitar Jerusalem owner Arcadi Gaydamak insisted Sunday that his team will sign two Muslim players from the Chechnyan Russian Premier League team Terek Grozny, despite fans’ protest.

Beitar supporters ran riot during Saturday’s Premier League game against Bnei Yehuda, during which police arrested three fans.

During the team’s trip to Grozny earlier this month the host team agreed to sign one or two Beitar players, so the Israeli team would have money to buy a new striker. During the visit Beitar’s owner Arcadi Gaydamak and Telman Ismailov, the billionaire owner of Terek Grozny, reached an agreement that Beitar would also receive one or two players from the Chechnyan team’s roster.

Beitar coach Eli Cohen was asked to name two or three payers he could be interested in, and the coach pointed to a midfielder and two forwards. However Grozny’s coach decided that he is not interested in any of Beitar’s players.

The other part of the agreement still stands, however, and 19-year-old midfielder Dzhabrail Kadiyev and 23-year-old striker Zaur Sadayev are due to land in Israel in the coming days.

Gaydamak did not feel it necessary to inform the team’s chairman, Itzik Kornfein, who was surprised to receive telephone calls from journalists about the proposed transfer of the two Muslim players. Cohen, who was still scouring for a striker over the weekend, was also caught by surprise by the development.

Meanwhile, a wave of fan protest against the proposed signings began. Kornfein and Cohen were besieged by phone calls from irate fans, while club directors complained that Gaydamak had not informed them of his plans.

Club officials urged fans not to protest during Saturday’s game against Bnei Yehuda, but to hold off until the players actually arrive. But during the game the fans in Teddy Stadium’s eastern stand made it abundantly clear that they do not want the team to sign the players, hurled abuse and catcalls, chanted against Gaydamak and Kornfein, and even raised a banner saying “Beitar is pure, forever.”

The club is expected to be brought before an Israel Football Association disciplinary tribunal after a match official reported the racist chanting and signs in the stands.
“This is something that we’ve wanted to do at Beitar for many years, and it’s been made possible now because of the team’s financial state and the need to strengthen the squad,” Gayadamak said Sunday in reaction.

“The aim is to put an end to the racism that has been doing harm to Beitar over the years, and not to give in to a handful of extremists.”

Cohen, who was widely criticized for saying after the game, “There’s a difference between a Muslim from Europe and a Muslim from Israel,” had this to say Sunday: “After the game in Grozny [a dull goalless draw between the two teams] I was asked which three players I would like to join Beitar, and I named them. Grozny has players from several countries, including Russian national team players. I didn’t check the religion of each player. Arcadi asked me to name which players impressed me professionally, and that’s what I did.

“The time has come to not disqualify a Muslim at Beitar, when there are a billion Muslims in the world,” the coach added. “I chose a player according to his talent, not according to his identity card. The decision is a professional one. We were told to take two players from Grozny, so we shouldn’t we take them? I thought every fan wants to see his team at the top. What does it matter where a player comes from if he suits the team and doesn’t cost money?”

“It’s time the Beitar fans grew up,” added a club official. “We’re talking about soccer, and it doesn’t matter if a player is Christian or Muslim. A soccer player is a soccer player – and that’s how he should be treated. Maybe it’s time to break this taboo.”

Meanwhile, fans say they intend to continue their protest during Tuesday’s State Cup game against Maccabi Umm al-Fahm.

Nir Keidar
Moti Kimche