Soccer-on-Shabbat committee rests with draft agreement

Matches on Saturday came under threat last September following a court ruling on a petition by religiously observant players against taking to the field during the Jewish Sabbath.

March 22, 2016 04:20
2 minute read.
Culture Minister Miri Regev

Culture Minister Miri Regev. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Minister of Culture and Sport Miri Regev announced on Monday that the committee set up to find a compromise regarding the playing of soccer matches on Shabbat has reached an agreed draft.

Matches on Saturday came under threat last September following a court ruling on a petition by religiously observant players against taking to the field during the Jewish Sabbath.

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Their refusal to participate in some matches that in previous years had been held on weekdays, led a labor court to rule that without a special waiver that allows companies to employ workers on Shabbat, Saturday soccer is illegal.

However, then Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein ultimately said he saw no reason to suddenly enforce a law that had been ignored for decades and matches went ahead as planned after he promised that nobody would be prosecuted.

Regev said at the time that she would set up a committee that would seek a solution that would accommodate players who did not want to play on the Sabbath, and it announced its initial conclusions on Monday.

The committee said it will work to formalize the status quo, while allowing players from the professional leagues not to play on Shabbat should they ask to.

Teams in the National League and lower divisions will also be able to request not to play on the Sabbath as long as at least seven of their players ask to.

“As I promised, a player that doesn’t want to desecrate Shabbat won’t need to,” said Regev. “For the first time we have reached an agreement with the teams, owners, players, football association and attorneys to sign an arrangement that is accepted by everyone. We will provide a comprehensive and long-term solution that will allow the status quo to continue while not hurting the rights of the players.

The bottom line is that matches on Shabbat will be reduced to the necessary minimum.”

The committee’s conclusions will be presented to the court later this month, after which all parties will sign the agreement, with a follow-up committee to assess its implementation throughout the first year.

Soccer matches have operated for decades without a waiver, as part of a so-called “status quo.” As a result of the court decision last year, Israeli Economy Minister Aryeh Deri, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, had to decide whether to issue a soccer waiver.

To do so would violate his own religious beliefs, but with soccer being the most popular sport in Israel, he ran the risk of angering many Israelis by canceling matches on Saturday, their only day off work.

Israel Football Association chairman Ofer Eini announced that all local soccer action will be suspended should Deri not authorize the playing of matches on Saturday.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, an avid soccer fan, also said that the Saturday games should go on, and after doing so under the Attorney-General’s approval since September, a long-term deal is finally set to be signed.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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