Despite Religious Concerns, Israel to Legalize Soccer Games on Shabbat

Inter-ministerial committee recommends upgrading facilities to allow less games on weekends to help maintain status quo.

Hapoel Tel Aviv's Itay Shechter celebrates by putting on a kipa after scoring a goal against Red Bull Salzburg during their Champions League qualifying soccer match in Salzburg August 18, 2010.

A special committee has come up with a legal arrangement that will allow Israel's professional soccer leagues to continue to operate on Saturday – the Jewish day of rest.

The inter-ministerial committee, established by Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev to examine the issue of soccer games on Shabbat, recommended creating a legal framework to permit the games, and recommended providing solutions for those players who keep the Sabbath and asked not to play for religious reasons.

It seems such a major societal change as not holding any professional soccer games from sundown Friday until after sunset on Saturday evening is impossible for a number of reasons, said the committee. This is because of the international commitments of taken on by Israel's soccer bodies, as well as commitments to broadcasters, who provide a major share of the game’s funding.

Still, by investing in upgrading sports facilities and building new ones, it will be possible to reduce the number of games held in lower-level and youth leagues on the Sabbath, the committee concluded.

The new facilities would make it possible to preserve the status quo, which has been the practice since games began in the country even before the founding of the state, while at the same time reducing the number of games held on Saturdays.

The committee, chaired by Culture and Sports Ministry Director General Yossi Sharabi and including representatives of the Israel Football Association, soccer league administration, Israel Sports Betting Board, Justice Ministry, the player’s union and other organizations, has been meeting over the last six months.

In September, the Labor Court ruled that holding professional soccer games on Shabbat without a permit constitutes a criminal offense. A week later, then-attorney general Yehuda Weinstein overruled this decision until a solution is found.