Brawls on Israel’s soccer fields have become so ugly that even Prime Minister
Binyamin Netanyahu was compelled to blow the whistle on Sunday. Addressing the
weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu warned, “We want to see soccer. If there is
violence, there will be no soccer.”
Precisely how Netanyahu proposed to
stop soccer matches being played was unclear. But it was unusual to hear a prime
minister issue such a harsh statement condemning violence in sport.
was joined by Union of Local Authorities chairman Shlomo Buhbut, who called for
the closure of soccer stadiums in all major cities until police significantly
increase their presence. The mayors of Haifa, Beersheba, Rishon Lezion,
Herzliya, Acre, Ramat Hasharon and Kiryat Ono have already responded favorably
to the idea.
Meanwhile, Culture and Sport Minister Limor Livnat told Army
Radio that if the Israel Football Association did not take more stringent
measures to stop the violence, she would consider passing “legislation” –
although she did not elaborate.
This collective hand-wringing came in
response to the latest in a series of violent soccer-related incidents. This
time, the teams slugging it out in the post-game free-forall were Hapoel Ramat
Gan and Bnei Lod. Some ribs were bruised, a face was punched but all injuries
were light. Unlike last month’s Betar Jerusalem incident, in which rowdy
fans, shouting racist epithets, confronted Arab workers at the Malha mall’s food
court, the latest clash had nothing to do with Jewish-Arab
Rather, it was more like the fight that erupted earlier this
month between Maccabi Petah Tikva and Hapoel Haifa, which involved players and
trainers – but not fans.
As after previous incidents, a ritual was
repeated in which sports pundits, media figures, politicians and Israel Football
Association officials lamented the sorry state of Israeli soccer and demanded
that steps be taken to halt the violence. Some attempted to argue that the
unruly behavior witnessed of late was actually a reflection of the essentially
violent nature of an Israeli society responsible for the “occupation” of the
But Prof. Oz Almog, a sociologist at the University
of Haifa, rejected such explanations as “nonsense” and estimated that
sports-related violence both in Israel and in other Western countries was
actually on the decline.
What we have been seeing is a steady
deterioration of social solidarity, Almog said. Israeli society has become more
atomized. The rise of capitalism has made Israelis more competitive, egoistic
and driven by greed. We speak on cellphones and ignore those around us. We drive
in cars and are oblivious to our surroundings.
Unlike in the US, where
individual freedoms are respected but the law is strictly enforced, here in
Israel the line between what is permitted and what is forbidden is blurred and
we have no tradition of accountability for our actions. This combination of lax
law enforcement and capitalist-inspired egotism has created a situation in which
we lack clearly defined social norms and limits.
Attempts by the prime
minister, the culture and sport minister and others to combat aberrant conduct
on the soccer field by making bombastic declarations will not work so long as
social norms are weak and not internalized.
If these declarations are
repeated without being backed up by deeds, they will be meaningless. In
the context of a soccer match, highly competitive players with high testosterone
levels behave deplorably on the field and appear to feel no embarrassment
although they know they are being filmed. After the fact, they appear to feel no
remorse whatsoever, probably because they don’t.
Further complicating the
situation is the image projected by Israel Football Association chairman Avi
Luzon. Regardless of his actions (he canceled all games scheduled for Saturday
after Friday’s brawl), Luzon gives the impression that he flouts public opinion
and is impervious to criticism.
Just last week he bragged that when he
eventually stepped down, he would be missed. And if the chairman acts in a
cavalier fashion, why should players behave any differently?
haughty disregard for normative behavior is not limited to the soccer field. It
is a symptom of a society that has become increasingly egotistical. The best way
to combat this trend is to regain the values of sportsmanship and solidarity.
Violent behavior must not be tolerated – on or off the sportsfield.