Despicable seems like too gentle a word to describe the behavior of Maccabi Tel
Aviv captain Guy Pnini during Sunday’s derby against Hapoel Tel Aviv at Nokia
Trash-talk is a common practice among professional athletes around
the world. It regularly involves vulgarities that even those involved would dare
not use away from the playing field.
However, the 29-year-old Pnini
crossed the line when he called Hapoel Tel Aviv player Jonathan Skjoldebrand a
Nazi, also wishing Hapoel’s Israeli forward that he should get cancer and that
his father will die.
After keeping silent for almost 24 hours, Maccabi
announced on Monday night that it had suspended Pnini until further notice,
stripped him of the captaincy and also fined him NIS 100,000.
the right thing by showing a zero tolerance attitude towards Pnini’s nauseating
Under no circumstances should the memory of the Holocaust be
exploited by players or fans as if it were just another method of gaining an
edge on the sporting field.
The days leading up to the derby were
dominated by stories regarding the custom of some Hapoel fans to wish a
Holocaust on Maccabi in one of their many terrace chants.
effort was made by all parties to prevent such an occurrence in the first derby
in more than six years, and despite initial fears, the showdown went off without
However, any good feeling from the bitter, yet sporting, rivalry
was forgotten once video footage documenting Pnini’s vile words towards
Maccabi’s relatively swift and decisive action was
exactly what was called for, but the yellow-andblue shoulders much of the blame
for finding itself in such a situation in the first place.
Pnini earned a
reputation as a provocateur long ago, often clashing with rival players and even
coaches down through the years.
Maccabi knew this when it named him as
its new captain in place of the retiring Tal Burstein in July, but still chose
to bestow him with an honor and responsibility he clearly didn’t deserve and was
incapable of assuming.
Pnini burst into tears when speaking with the
media on Monday night after being told of his punishment, but he was far more
composed on Tuesday after apologizing to his teammates ahead of their flight to
Poland without him for Thursday’s Euroleague game against Prokom
“When I saw the video I knew this was serious and unacceptable,”
Pnini said on Tuesday.
“I knew it would become a big story in our country
and rightly so. I’m the first to admit that I made a
“Obviously, I’m under a magnifying glass being the captain of
Maccabi, but I think that at any level in any sport you shouldn’t reach such a
Maccabi co-owner David Federman revealed on Tuesday that the
club considered voiding Pnini’s contract before electing to level a harsh, yet
far less damaging punishment.
The possibility of being cut by Maccabi
clearly left an impression with Pnini, who was uncertain of his future with the
yellow-and-blue on Tuesday.
“Time will tell what will happen,” he said.
“I will do all I can so that my career will continue.
“I want to continue
to do the thing I love the most, which is to play basketball, and I hope I will
be able to do it at Maccabi.”
Pnini is also set to be sanctioned by the
Israel Basketball Association.
The IBA legal adviser announced on Tuesday
that he will recommend to the disciplinary court to hand the forward a five-game
ban and a NIS 10,000 fine, as well as sentencing him to voluntary work with a
Holocaust related institution.
Maccabi coach David Blatt said that the
effect Pnini’s absence will have on the team’s performance was never a
consideration when determining his penalty, but was adamant that the player will
not be left to hang out and dry.
“I hope that the punishment he received
also sent out a general message,” Blatt said.
“Guy Pnini is part of us
and we continue to embrace him the way we did before this episode.
his coach and in a way his teacher, I also failed, so he is not
“He recognized his actions and showed remorse and apologized to
everyone who may have been hurt.
“I am proud of him for doing
The irony of it all is that Pnini went out of his way to call on
fans to shun any violent behavior in the derby, either physical or
“When you arrive at the arena you must maintain a level of
respect between people,” Pnini said just a day before the derby.
should be no verbal violence, no racism and no Holocaust related
If only he had heeded his own words.