No Arabs, No Goals

1. As is the case in all other spheres of life, sport in the Arab communities also suffers from neglect, non-inclusiveness and discrimination. There isn't a single Olympic-size swimming pool in the Arab communities, and regular pools, too, are few and far between. There are many Arab swimmers, but their horizon for advancement and professionalism is a very narrow one. Moreover, the field of women's sport - such as basketball, soccer, swimming and athletics - which should enjoy widespread interest, does not receive the preferential budget it deserves.

Arab athletes have achieved success in boxing, judo, tae kwon do and karate, but there are no professional bodies to support them. Promise has been shown in tennis, too, particularly in Nazareth, but it's all just a drop in the ocean. Arab coaches in all these sports earn a pittance, and the profession therefore is not an attractive one. Those who do choose a coaching career do so almost at their own expense.

sakhnin - Abdallah Shama - June 28 2011
Abdallah Shama

The most popular sports in the Arab sector are soccer and jogging - perhaps because here and there you can find a soccer field in the Arab communities, and walking/running doesn't cost anything. But the main reason why these two sports are the most popular is not a lack of awareness for other sports, but rather a lack of funding and sporting facilities. Sports halls and fields are easy to find in the Jewish communities; in the Arab schools, on the other hand, sports facilities aren't the only things that are in short supply - there is a shortage of some 7,000 classrooms, too.

The relative success of Arab players in the world of soccer teaches that investment - for example, at well-established clubs such as Maccabi Haifa, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Haifa - yields achievement. But Arab athletes want to progress in fields such as swimming and boxing, too. Neglect, however, delivers a right hook to the face.

2. It's worth noting the fact that Israeli media ignore sport in the Arab communities, bar a few exceptions - Bnei Sakhnin's success in soccer's Premier League, or the negative inflation of racist slurs. And here's the place to demand painful and deterring sanctions against racism in the stands, particularly at the notorious Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

3. With support from government ministries and official sporting bodies almost nonexistent, responsibility falls on individuals such as myself, who are humbly trying to bridge the gap. To this end, I made use of my network of connections in the Arab world to erect Doha Stadium in Sakhnin, with the support of the Qatari Olympic committee. And my efforts in dealing with the Culture and Sports Ministry have also yielded funding of NIS 3 million to build a soccer field in Taibeh.

I cannot deny the lack of professional management at some of the sporting associations in the Arab sector, as a result of local politicization and the influence of extraneous considerations - and the examples are horribly plentiful. Nevertheless, a lack of sport and sports facilities breeds hollowness and defiance. No budget means no Arabs in sport; and when there are no Arabs, there are simply no goals.

The writer is a physician and chairman of the United Arab List-Ta'al faction in the Knesset.