Maccabi Tel Aviv’s Eran Zahavi.
(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
The launch of a new tradition resulting from a presidential initiative took place at the President’s Residence on Thursday when it was announced that Maccabi Tel Aviv Football Club had won the first place in the Shield of Honor contest that was initially announced by President Reuven Rivlin in March this year.
Disturbed by the riots and the racism ignited by small pockets of spectators at sports events, but mostly football matches around the country, Rivlin aware of the extent to which athletes are regarded as role models, conceived of adding an extra competitive dimension to sport which would also indirectly serve as an educational tool.
Although there have been some violent clashes between hot headed players from time to time, most players are interested in playing a clean game without the eruption of incendiary language and physical violence from the spectator stands.
Rivlin was pleased that a large number of teams competed at such short notice. The contest is based on how teams have expanded their community and social projects in helping to combat racism and to promote cooperation between clubs throughout the country.
The adjudicating committee headed by retired judge Edna Beckenstein who chairs the Council for the Prevention of Violence in Sport selected Maccabi Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Netanya in first, second and third places respectively.
All three teams plus numerous football officials and representatives of other teams were on hand for the award ceremony. It is customary when Rivlin enters the hall for his guests to rise and applaud him. This time they weren’t only applauding number one citizen, but number one football fan, and someone who many years ago, was one of their own. During the 1960s Rivlin was legal advisor to Beitar Jerusalem, and later he worked as team manager and chairman of the club. He is also an avid fan of British Premier League Liverpool Football Club.
In his opening remarks Rivlin even quoted the late Liverpool manager and icon Bill Shankly, who had replied to someone who had said to him: “To you football is a matter of life and death,” to which Shankly had responded, “It’s more than that.”
Rivlin said that everyone who had come to the awards ceremony understood that football was much more than a game.
“We talk about football, but in reality we’re talking about the face of Israeli society,” he said.
In public discourse, he continued there is increasingly frequent reference to “the few” which he said has become an excuse for every shameful act and flaw and every perversion in Israeli society. “It’s convenient for us to speak about the few. It’s easy to blame the few and to hide behind the few,” but it wasn’t the few that he wanted to talk about, said Rivlin. “I want to talk about the many, about our attitude to football which we love so much and the way we educate our youth to build the future of Israeli society.”
Rivlin emphasized that football is the largest youth movement in Israel, outpacing the Scouts and every Zionist youth movement. Tens of thousands of youngsters throughout Israel play football in a number of different frameworks, but football is not just a great game, Rivlin underscored. “It’s a vehicle of education which facilitates the coming together of Israeli society on an equal footing, and the only thing that counts on the field is talent.”
The Shield of Honor, he said, was designed to set new standards of social action and shared values among youth, and premier league players and their managers, and of course among football fans.
Martin Bain the CEO of Maccabi Tel Aviv, Yankele Shahar the owner of Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Netanya captain Omer Peretz made it clear that there would be zero tolerance for racism and violence
Shahar said that issue was of paramount importance in the upcoming football season.