Shai Aharon, a striker for Hapoel Katamon and an icon of Hapoel Jerusalem, spoke out when asked about the abuse following the signing of two players from Chechen by Beitar Jerusalem earlier this year. The players Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev were the subject of protests at the club training ground, a walk out by fans during a league match, and an arson attack on the training ground.
Shai Aharon said of the incidents: “The club and the players should have taken this opportunity to tell their fans that if they don’t want to accept everyone, they shouldn’t come to the stadium. Nowadays, players are seen as opinion makers and icons and they need to use this power correctly.”
The conference was organised by NIF in co-operation with the Israel Football Association (IFA), as part of the Football People action weeks, to discuss racism in the game and means of building bridges between Jewish and Arab communities through football in Israel.
Two hundred young players of both Jewish and Arab descendent attended the event that included the screening of a film and a debate featuring players of the three Jerusalem clubs (Hapoel Jerusalem, Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem and Beitar Jerusalem), and sports broadcasters Zohir Bahloul and Modi Braun.
The call for players’ commitment in tackling discrimination and create awareness on the topic comes after an year marked by the walk-off pitch of Kevin Prince-Boateng for fans racist abuse and the stand-up of many others against discrimination.
During the Football People weeks several European leagues, including the Swiss, Austrian and Greek, clubs and players of the UEFA Champions and Europa Leagues pledged to continue to challenge discrimination in football.