Israel's Soccer Chief: All Local Matches Will Be Canceled Unless Shabbat Permit Granted

Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini gives ultimatum court after declares games played on Saturday a criminal offense.

Emil Salman

Israel Football Association Chairman Ofer Eini said Tuesday that all upcoming local soccer matches will be canceled unless Economy Minister Aryeh Deri issues a Shabbat employment permit, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Eini's announcement comes days after Labor Court judge Ariella Gilzer said that, without a license, organizing soccer games on Shabbat is a criminal offense.

“We have asked the Economy Minister for a permit,” Eini said on Tuesday, according to the Jerusalem Post. “This doesn’t just affect the professional leagues. There are over 30,000 children who play soccer throughout the country on Shabbat."

Glizer made her decision after hundreds of religious players from the National League signed a petition refusing to be scheduled for games during the Jewish holy day, which begins weekly at sundown on Friday and ends on Saturday evening.

Under Israeli law, companies are barred from employing workers on the Sabbath unless they apply for a special waiver that details how many employees are permitted and why. Nearly 400 companies have received this waiver.

The IFA oversees all organized soccer in Israel, including around 1,000 teams and 30,000 players. In its 87-year history, it has always held games on Shabbat, although Beitar Jerusalem, one of Israel's top teams recently announced that it would not play any home games on Shabbat this season.

The National League, which is Israel's second tier league after the Premier League, issued a statement supporting Saturday games.

"For over 100 years soccer has been played on Shabbat in Israel it is a status quo in which thousands play it, tens of thousands make money from it and hundreds of thousands of spectators watch it every Saturday," the league said in a statement, broadcast by video. "Though we respect every religion, we are convinced that religion or politics should not be mixed with sports, for such a mixture would pose serious dangers to the existence of sports."