(photo credit: INIMAGE)
One of the nobler aspects of sport is its ability to simulate the euphoria and heartbreak of real life without imposing actual consequences.
Fans’ hopes and aspirations are played out in a parallel universe – whether on the soccer field, the basketball court or the boxing ring. The exultation of victory and the despair of defeat feel real but are tempered by the realization that this is, in the end, just sport.
The human inclination to be clannishly aggressive is sublimated in sporting events that are governed by clear rules and are settled not by brute force and violence but by virtue of skill, team effort, perseverance, stamina and an enigmatic and irreducible spirit that separates the winners from the losers.
But all this holds true only as long as a healthy distance is maintained between sport and reality. Fans, players, referees, coaches and all others involved must not allow their emotions to get the better of them.
Unfortunately, on Monday night, in the 34th minute of the Tel Aviv derby between Hapoel and Maccabi, this indispensable distinction collapsed when a fan broke onto the soccer field. Boundaries were blurred, dark passions were given free rein and all hell broke loose.
The wayward Hapoel fan ran toward Maccabi midfielder Eran Zahavi and proceeded to pummel him. Instead of dodging the assailant, Zahavi stood his ground and returned the favor. After more mayhem, with fans throwing things and entering the field, referee Roei Reinshriber decided to cancel the game.
The atrocious behavior continued on Tuesday, when a brawl broke out between fans and police in front of the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, where 12 people arrested for previous night’s fracas were set to face a remand hearing.
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni quite rightly linked the soccer blowup to the rising level of violence permeating Israeli society as a whole.
“Yesterday it happened on the pitch. We saw the reality of the ugly violence that is blowing up in our faces,” the minister wrote on her Facebook page. “The violence is penetrating our squares, our sports, and in the end, our social media networks and our children’s lives.” Livni added that education, law enforcement and punishment were the way to combat the phenomenon.
“We will add other tools if need be and become more strict – because racism, violence and hate truly threaten us from within as a society and a country, no less so than the terrorism that threatens us from without,” she warned. Education Minister Shai Piron also expressed concern that the soccer incident was emblematic of a larger problem facing the country.
“We must stop for a moment and understand that there is a deep-seated disease. If we only talk about violence on the soccer pitch, we will miss the profound problem that has existed for a long time. There is violence on the soccer field, but also on many other fields,” Piron said at an Israel Democracy Institute conference.
Israeli society is “apparently sick, and sick people need care. This treatment will be deep, go to the roots and hurt, and I suggest we don’t run away from the necessary discussion,” Piron said.
Coming 19 years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the shameful events on the pitch only magnify the sense that violence is becoming the go-to reaction whenever a conflict arises – whether it be opposing soccer teams, in the home, which has seen shocking instances of husbands murdering their wives, or between two peoples fighting for the same land.
Sports is supposed to be an outlet for letting off steam, and nowhere is that more needed than in the pressure cooker in which we live. There is, however, a yawning gap between cheering vociferously for your team and attacking a player on the team you dislike.
We endorse whatever measures are necessary to make our sporting events family-friendly and safe for all – fans and players alike. If we cannot do that, how will we be able to tackle the more serious problems facing our society?