An Israeli soccer player for a New Zealand club wrapped himself in an Israeli flag during a match on Sunday, prompting a statement by his team calling on fans to "refrain from bringing" foreign national flags to its upcoming games, citing the ongoing fighting between Israel and Gaza.
Tomer Hemed, an Israeli striker for the Wellington Phoenix, was also shown a cautionary yellow card by a referee when he put on a kippa and prayed in celebration of a late equalizing goal he scored in a game against Melbourne City; a yellow card must be issued when a player covers their face or head with a mask or other covering.
Australia's governing soccer body Football Australia deemed the matter "final" in a statement issued Thursday, given that Hemed had already received a yellow card for doing so in "line with the rules of the game."
Earlier during Sunday's game, Hemed wrapped himself in an Israeli flag that a fan handed him when he scored another goal. After the game, Hemed posted on Instagram "This game is dedicated to you my dear country. My heart is with you. May the peace return soon amen.” On Tuesday, Hemed posted footage of the goal and the moment he put on his kippa in an Instagram post, writing "My heart is with you. Praying for PEACE!”
New Zealand news website Stuff, which ran Football Australia's statement on Thursday, had quoted Phoenix's general manager David Dome as saying on Monday that he expected the league to demand an explanation from Hemed even if he did not expect them to punish Hemed. He also mentioned the team's response to the incident.
"We respect people’s rights for their expressions but at the same time we have to be very sensitive to what is going on in the Middle East and the human tragedy that is happening there,” Dome said, according to Stuff. “We’ve already spoken to Tomer about that and over the next couple of days we will look into it in more detail and come up with a response about how we’re going to handle it on the day as well,” he said, adding that he understood that Hemed was “praying for peace.”
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On Thursday, in a statement published on its website called "Wellington Phoenix Acknowledges Middle East Tensions," the team called on fans to “refrain from bringing national flags,” explaining that “only New Zealand and Australian national flags will be permitted to be displayed” at its next two home games “out of respect for all nationalities currently caught up in the conflict.” The team did not mention Hemed by name or the incident in the statement.
Hemed, a 34-year old native of Kiryat Tiv’on, started his career with Maccabi Haifa and has played for a variety of clubs in Israel, Spain and England, as well as the Israeli national team. He was signed to New Zealand club Wellington Phoenix last November.
Elsewhere, England’s Football Association declined to discipline players who flew flags related to the conflict during two separate games this week; in both cases, Palestinian flags.
On Tuesday, Manchester United players Paul Pogba and Amad Diallo walked around a soccer pitch carrying a Palestinian flag. On Saturday, Leicester City F.C. players Wesley Fofana and Hamza Choudhury also carried a Palestinian flag onto the soccer field, prompting Palestinian Ambassador to London Husam Zomlot to thank them for their “solidarity with the plight of the Palestinian people.”