Israel puts up a valiant fight, falls to Chelsea

Full house in Petah Tikva treated to entertaining women’s friendly to culminate peace-initiative visit.

August 21, 2019 17:14
CHELSEA WOMEN’S manager Emma Hayes and club owner Roman Abramovich pose at the Western Wall

CHELSEA WOMEN’S manager Emma Hayes and club owner Roman Abramovich pose at the Western Wall ahead of last night’s friendly against the Israel national team. (photo credit: SHAHAR AZRAN/CHELSEA FC)

The Israel women’s national team fell 3-1 in its scheduled soccer friendly with English powerhouse Chelsea FC on Tuesday night in a match that certainly did not disappoint the packed house at the Moshava Stadium in Petah Tikva.

In front of 8,534 spectators – a new record for women’s soccer in Israel – the Israeli team looked to come out a little sluggish in the first half against what looked to be a more skilled English squad as Chelsea dominated possession early.

Chelsea’s Bethany England opened the scoring in the sixth minute of the game, a goal that was caused by confusion and deflections on part of the Israeli team.

Early in the second half, Chelsea scored again with a shot from Magdalena Eriksson that came from outside the box, ripping the top right corner of the net.

But the Israeli side came back, nearly 10 minutes later, with what can only be described as a beautifully orchestrated symphony of a cross sent into a header by Vered Cohen that swayed right over the Chelsea goalkeeper’s reach.

In the 73rd minute, Chelsea’s Sophie Ingle notched a remarkable goal to close out the scoring. 

While it was not the result that the home crowd desired, it was a wonderful showcase of soccer, demonstrating first and foremost that the future and growth of women’s sport is alive and well in Israel.

This week sparked the first week-long joint endeavor between Chelsea FC and the Israeli Football Association (IFA) in an initiative to promote women’s soccer through the local grassroots level.

While in the country, Chelsea FC has been working with the IFA, the Peres Center for Innovation and Peace as well as many other charities focusing their efforts on building the state of women’s sport across Israel as well as a state of understanding throughout different cultures.

The women’s club on their Israeli journey have visited local youth teams across the country, holding special training sessions as well as leadership workshops.

On Sunday morning in Shefayim, Chelsea and the Peres Center held a joint training session with both Palestinian and Israeli youth women soccer players.

Chelsea’s Manager Emma Hayes took to the field with star Chelsea players such as Anita Asante and Deanna Cooper to participate in these joint training session with the young Palestinian and Israeli girls, teaching these young women the importance about being role models, about their love of soccer and their dreams, as well as the need for equality on and off the field.

“It wasn’t about politics, religion culture, fear; it was about a round ball and scoring goals and it was enjoyment without any of those worries,” said Hayes. “Let children be children, and let them play... Change comes little by little, keep doing what you’re doing.”

A special story was shared today at Tuesday morning’s press conference in Bat Yam. A young woman by the name of Tamara Jiryis, shared her story and what the Peres Center has done for her life.

When Jiryis grew up, she lived in a northern Arab village, never exposed to Jewish people.

“When I was 22, I saw the program at the Peres Center. It was important for me to pass on my personal experience. Sports is a common language as well,” said Jiryis. “We met Arabs and Jews to play football, I believe that shared living can do better for the kids. Common ground for everyone.”

The Peres Center for Peace and Innovation’s Educational Department Director Tami Hay Sagiv noted Jiryis’s story, sharing that her journey is just “one of thousands that explains why we’re doing what we are doing and where we’re going. You can see the necessity the project brings, specifically, the young generations together.”

The Peres Center partnered with the IFA with this goal of coexistence in mind. The results Sagiv shared claim that eighty-percent of participants have a more positive feeling towards the “other” culture after the program, demonstrating the power of sport and the importance of these programs.

“Alongside the professional importance of this visit from Chelsea in Israel, there's major importance in the social aspect of football – an excellent means of connecting different groups of people,” said Chemi Peres, Chairman of the Peres Center.

Chelsea management mirrors such ideals as well. In January 2018, the English soccer club started the awareness campaign “Say No To Antisemitism”. The program has been spearheaded by both Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich as well as chairman Bruce Buck in order to educate their players, staff, fans and the wider community about antisemitism in soccer.

“We have 508 million fans around the world, so when a football club says something to the fan base, they listen,” said Buck at a press conference at the Peres Center on Tuesday morning.

Buck discussed further not only the programs they have been sharing with the public but the important programs they have shared with Chelsea players.

Programs such as visits from Holocaust survivors, further education, even in some instances involving some of Chelsea's star players directly in the campaign - giving them an opportunity to lend their voice to the initiative individually. The power of the campaign leads you to circle back to reality of what the power of a 508 million person fan base can do in making change through the world of professional sport.
“Earlier this year, the men’s team played a charity game in Boston, raising $4 million for the fight against antisemitism. Our women’s team have also been heavily involved in our campaign, meeting Holocaust survivor Susan Pollock and marking Holocaust Remembrance Day through the #WeRemember campaign," Buck said.

However, tolerance is not the only aspiration in Chelsea’s Israeli mission – there is also a main focus on promoting women’s sport. 

“Our commitment to women’s football is driven by our owner, Mr. Roman Abramovich, who is passionate about supporting the team and promoting the sport,” said Buck in a statement. “We hope that our visit to Israel will not only be a special moment for our Israeli fans and our players, but also help to grow the game in the country.”

The IFA shares the same aspirations for the state of soccer in Israel. The women’s team has already begun preparations to prepare in the 2021 World Cup, hoping the match against a top team like Chelsea will help prepare the Israeli players for the next level of competition.
“The arrival of Chelsea Women for a friendly match in Israel is an excellent opportunity to place the focus on female football, certainly when such a leading team pays a visit,” said Rotem Kamer, IFA General Secretary.

When asked if sport has the ability to spark unification among the world, Buck said: “I don’t just believe it; I know it. I see it in all the projects we enter into. It’s not the same in the US, but in Europe football is such an important part of the culture.

“We are unsure about the metrics that we have changed the minds of an X number people or so but we’re comfortable in knowing that education is the right way to go about things, punishment is the last resort."

Buck continued by creating an example of a hypothetical offender at a Chelsea game. He believes that by banning the offender from the stadium for antisemitic or racial slurs only adds to the problem, but educating these offenders of what their words mean and the history behind them, essentially giving them a chance for redemption instead of the fierce punishment of a lifetime ban, real change can be made - instead of bringing anger into the situation.

The IFA themselves believe that organizations and football clubs have the privilege to be the biggest stage in promoting values that will spread massively and influence society, said to Ronit Glasman, Marketing and SR Director for the IFA.

Vince Gennaro, Associate Dean of the NYU School of Professional Studies Tisch Institute for Sports Management, Media, and Business believes that “sport is unique in that it has the power to elevate the marginalized. Rules and structure are created for fair play that we might not otherwise experience in the real world because of discrimination. Suspending the rules of society and instead empowering the marginalized through the rules of sport.”

He added, using climate change as an example, that sports alert a raised consciousness within the public, claiming 80% of Americans are listening to sports but only 16% listen to scientists - inferring the values Chelsea are attempting to infuse into their fan base can be argued to have a large lasting effect.

British Member of Parliament Lord Stuart Polak concluded Tuesday’s conference with his final remarks and left the audience with three messages.

“To the social media giants: what you have done is to give a platform to people to share their views and it goes around the world,” said Polak. “Premier League teams, you need to follow the example of Chelsea. They are a premier league of their own. This is a campaign everyone should join.

“[To the] Government in Israel: people here who support football; go to your government and say that sport and women’s football is important and just by doing that. Urge the new government in Israel to create mentors: one voice, one goal to support this cause.

“We need to fight more and have our voices heard and that will ensure the future is good.”

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