|Fans shout at Betar Jerusalem match 370.(Photo by: REUTERS)|
Was it a ‘historic’ game? No, not really
By MELANIE LIDMAN
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.
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
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.
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
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
But despite the bubbling optimism from Kornfein and Barkat,
this is not the first time Betar has had a Muslim player.
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
MKs Limor Livnat, Ahmed Tibi and Avigdor Liberman attended Sunday’s
game, along with a group of representatives from the Chechnyan
Tibi said Betar is now reaping the consequences of never
before having a Muslim player, by dealing with an outof- control and racist fan
“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.”