Soccer is more than just a game

It’s a guideline for being a decent human being, President Reuven Rivlin said on Monday at the fifth annual awards ceremony of the Shield of Honor.

August 5, 2019 18:44
4 minute read.
Reuven Rivlin

President Rivlin plays soccer. (photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)

Football, which Americans call soccer, is not just a game. It’s a guideline for being a decent human being, President Reuven Rivlin said on Monday at the fifth annual awards ceremony of the Shield of Honor.

The award, which is the flagship of the Hope of Israel project devised by Rivlin to promote unity among Israelis, is an important incentive in the campaign against racism and violence in general, and on the sports field in particular.

Rivlin’s voice rang out not only from the stage at the President’s Residence where he was interviewed by television personality Zvika Hadar, but also from the large video screen, where the president could be seen kicking a ball around with junior league players and youngsters attending local sports clubs.

Whether conversing in English or Hebrew, Rivlin, a former official of Beitar Jerusalem Football Club, seldom misses an opportunity to introduce the king of sports into the discussion. He’s been an avid football fan since he was 9, he said, which means that he’s been an enthusiast for 70 years.

The game always excites him, regardless of which teams are playing.

But he finds that any event, such as the Shield of Honor award, or anything else designed to promote inclusiveness, respect, tolerance and acceptance of the other, gives him the same emotional charge as watching a championship match.

Rivlin loves the team spirit and the teamwork which is the essence of football. To win, all team members must respect and cooperate with each other.

When Hadar asked him whether there was a lesson that politicians could learn from the sport, Rivlin replied: “Politicians need to look at football and understand that what they have to do is not to be divisive.” He derided any attempt to behave in society as if the different players from different teams and from different nationalities are not part of the Israeli collective.

“Together and united, we can do much better on the field. Just as in Israel per se, we are all equal, and just as no goal is worth more than any other, no citizen is more equal than any other. Football is a competitive game but it is also a bridge between worlds and cultures.

“Everyone who plays in the Israeli National Football Team is an Israeli,” he declared, hinting at the intolerance shown by supporters of some teams, especially Beitar Jerusalem, towards Arab players, whether Muslim or Christian, and to Muslim players, whether Israeli or otherwise.

Addressing Moshe Hogeg, who a year ago became the owner of the Beitar Jerusalem Club that he purchased from Eli Tabib, Rivlin said: “We are looking at you with great hope. It’s important to us that you’ve begun to win.”

Then turning back to the crowded hall of officials, coaches and players Rivlin stated: “I must say that Hogeg is not just a good owner of Beitar. He definitely conveys the most important message to Israeli society. We’ve had enough division. We are one society – one state – Jewish and democratic.

When the Israeli National Team wins, it’s because of the team and because of the best players. Moshe, don’t change what you’re doing. Don’t start to bend with the wind, because it’s my understanding that you are able to stand like a strong tree against any wind. Winds come and go, but the tree remains standing strong and yielding quality fruit.”

When asked whether his children were as keen on football as he is, Rivlin replied that all his children and grandchildren are sports-minded, but that football is not necessarily their preference.
“But they’re very patriotic when they watch a football match.”

The president also spoke about the need to give more support to women in sport, and noted that Israel has some very fine women athletes who have brought great honor to the country.
One of them, champion sprinter and Shield of Honor adjudicator Esther Shahamorov Roth, was sitting in the front row. At one stage she held five national records, three of them for more than 20 years.

One of the president’s duties is to present the National Football League Cup. Hadar was curious as to Rivlin’s feelings when he does this. It’s always very exciting and emotional, said Rivlin, because the match is between the two best teams in the country. He always makes sure to tell the losing side “next time…”

In the videos that were screened, Rivlin stressed the significance sports clubs give youngsters from the periphery. He made the point that the focus should not be reserved for youth with special talents, but also for those with special needs. They too must be welcomed inside and allowed to play the game.

“Open your clubs to every child and give them the support they need,” he urged.

When the awards were given, it was a double win for Betar Kfar Saba Shlomi’s Youth Department whose coach Avraham Bachar was named the coach of the year. Betar Kfar Saba Shlomi has reached out in a meaningful way to youth at risk, and was the winner from among 60 participating youth clubs.

Maccabi Netanya was named the outstanding club of the year.

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