When It Comes to Racism on the Football Field, the Ball Is in the Court’s Hands

There is no value to a sport, which is supposed to be a symbol of equality and fraternity, when it is used to smash those very values.

Hagai Aharon / Jini

Friday afternoon in Tel Aviv: Hundreds of fans of the Bnei Yehuda soccer team are standing on the concrete bleachers, shouting “Death to Arabs!” They subsequently focus their racist invective against two players from the opposing Bnei Lod team – Salim Tuama and Mahmoud Abbas. When the latter was injured and taken off the pitch, they spat at him and threw bags of sunflower seeds and drinking cups at him. Then another target was selected: Bnei Lod’s chairman, Mohammed Azabarga.

This all happened during a soccer game in the National League (second division), with security guards doing nothing to stop the odious show of racism.

Bnei Yehuda’s chairman, Moshe Damaio, did say that he was “deeply ashamed of what happened the spectators acted disgracefully,” while the Israel Football Association condemned what it called “the ugly scenes and sounds.” Also, it announced it would act “in every legal and regulatory way to root out this threat.”

But with an even more explosive game in the background – Bnei Sakhnin hosting Beitar Jerusalem at the Doha Stadium in Sakhnin this evening – it seems the question is whether there is any value to a sport when it becomes a mass manifestation of racism.

The answer is clear: There is no value to a sport, which is supposed to be a symbol of equality and fraternity, when it is used to smash those very values. There is no value to a sport that is supposed to give people equal opportunities and treatment without reference to religion, race or gender when it becomes a focus for discrimination and racism.

The problem is not the players themselves. They – in fact, Israeli soccer in general – symbolize more than anything else a realm of coexistence. Dozens of Arab soccer players in all the local leagues are testimony to this.

The problem is with some of the teams’ fans, who insist on turning the bleachers into hotbeds of racism.

Last Thursday, the start of a real solution to the problem seemed in the offing. The Tel Aviv District Prosecutor’s Office decided to indict three Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer fans for racist epithets against a player on their team, Maharan Radi. The three stand accused of breaking clause 15 in the law against violence in sports, which prohibits racist statements.

This decision should be expanded. Security cameras at Bloomfield Stadium on Friday recorded brawling fans, and Bnei Yehuda’s management has turned the footage over to the police. The Tel Aviv district prosecution has pledged to arrest a number of those who shouted racist epithets. The matter is now in the hands of the court. It must deal severely with this harsh and dangerous phenomenon.