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Was it a ‘historic’ game? No, not really
By MELANIE LIDMAN
02/11/2013
Betar Jerusalem briefly fielded Nigerian Muslim player in 2005, although he fled due to constant harassment.
 
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat hailed Sunday’s game between Betar Jerusalem and Bnei Sakhnin as “historic,” because it was the first time one of the team’s new Muslim players suited up in Betar’s black and yellow colors.

Some fans exploded in anger after Betar Jerusalem signed two Muslim Chechnyan players last week, Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev. Over the past two weeks, a fanatical group of fans have protested outside practices, pelted rocks at players’ cars, and in the most extreme example, torched the offices at the Betar practice fields in the Bayit Vagan neighborhood of Jerusalem to illustrate their displeasure.

Sadayev is injured, but Kadiyev came on as an 80thminute substitute. He was received with a mixture of booing, whistles and cheers every time he touched the ball.

Still, the mayor was all smiles as he left Sunday’s game, a 2-2 tie between Betar and Bnei Sakhnin, an Arab town in the Galilee. “This was a historic game that will change the perspective of Betar fans,” said Barkat. “I think today the whole world saw that 99 percent of Betar fans want the team to succeed.”

Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein, who has borne the brunt of much of the anger over the decision to sign new players, echoed the mayor’s positive sentiment.

“We saw today that most of the fans support Betar and want Betar to succeed,” he said.

Yet the traditional chant “You’re a bastard, Itzik Kornfein, everyone hates you!” was one of the staples of Sunday’s game in the stands.

Though there were no significant incidents of violence during Sunday’s game, police removed over 100 fans from both teams during the course of the game for incitement or racist chanting.

After the game, police arrested two Betar fans who yelled racist slogans, who were then indicted Monday in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court (see story below).

The police also arrested six additional fans for selling drugs or public drunkenness.

“I hope they will understand that this step was taken and there is no way back [to a team without Muslims],” Kornfein said after the game.

“We will continue with [the Chechnyan players], we don’t want to go backwards,” said Kornfein, adding that he had been assigned a security detail following violent incidents against the team over the past week.

But despite the bubbling optimism from Kornfein and Barkat, this is not the first time Betar has had a Muslim player.

A Muslim defender from Nigeria, Ibrahim Nadalla, was on the team briefly in 2005. He played just a few games before leaving due to constant hostility from the fans.

MKs Limor Livnat, Ahmed Tibi and Avigdor Liberman attended Sunday’s game, along with a group of representatives from the Chechnyan parliament.

Tibi said Betar is now reaping the consequences of never before having a Muslim player, by dealing with an outof- control and racist fan base.

“Maybe we’re taking a step in the right direction, but this is not historic,” he said.

Kadiyev left the field holding the hand of his mother, and refused to answer questions from a hoard of journalists asking about his reaction to the booing.

Bnei Sakhnin captain Khaled Khalaila praised the muchhyped game, which included hundreds of deployed police officers and security guards due to concerns about violent clashes between the two groups of fans, for a “good atmosphere.”

“It’s too bad that [Betar fans] do this to their players,” he said.

“It’s not just Betar Jerusalem, it doesn’t need to be like this anywhere in the world. All in all we’re soccer players; we just want our fans to enjoy.”
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