English fans enjoy Israel's sun, surf and serious side

By JEREMY LAST
March 25, 2007 05:53
3 minute read.

 
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A penalty shoot-out competition featuring legendary English soccer player John Barnes in Abu Ghosh and a peace tournament in a Tel Aviv park were just two of the many events held Friday in connection with the Israel vs England game. Barnes, who flew into Israel a year ago to promote the launch of the Kick Racism and Violence out of Israeli Soccer campaign, returned this weekend to show his support for the continuing campaign. On Friday morning he traveled to the town of Abu Ghosh just outside Jerusalem where he and a delegation of around 50 people met with participants in a co-existence project involving Hapoel Abu Ghosh-Mevaseret FC, a mixed Jewish-Arab team that plays in the 4th division. Barnes and former Israeli international Avi Cohen spent a few hours speaking and playing with local youngsters. In the evening the New Israel Fund, which organized the trip, held a dinner at the Sheraton Moriah Hotel in Tel Aviv, where attendees included representatives of both the Israeli and English Football Associations. The English FA has been involved in and thrown its support behind the Kick it Out campaign since its launch. "We have been keen on this [kick it out campaign] for 20 years and its great to be able to use this opportunity to promote it," FA chief executive Brian Barwick told The Jerusalem Post. "There is an affinity between England and Israel. It has been borne out tonight and the two days I have been here. Were delighted to be here and although we are here for a football match there's so many positive things you can do around a football match." While he was unable to attend the event, newly appointed IFA chairman Avi Luzon sent a message of support. "Football is a game to be enjoyed by all the family while feeling secure and content, not feeling any violence or racism. We should all be part of this task of keeping peace and safety in the football stadiums." And Luzon stressed the IFA's commitment to the campaign. "This is not a one-time event. We are really proud to be part of an ongoing process with the English FA throughout the year trying to fight all aspects of violence and racism." At the dinner, Sports Minister Raleb Majadele, the country's first Muslim Arab minister, said he hoped the "Kick it Out" campaign would help fight discrimination against Arabs in Israel. "It is our job to hold hands with people from all parts of society in this effort to stop racism and violence in sports and in the entire Israeli society," Majadele said. Earlier Friday a group of 50 England supporters joined an FA delegation and a group from Maccabi Great Britain in a visit to Yad Vashem, which was followed by a wreath-laying service. "It was a very thought-provoking experience, something that will stay with me for a very long time. It was one of those experiences in life that was important to reflect on and think how lucky we are," Barwick said. "We know the problems racism can cause, from the experience that we have had [in England] across the last two decades," said Simon Johnson, FA corporate affairs director. "And we also know that if you have determination, and if you work together, you will be able to conquer it." One England fan Paul Dickinson added: "I came to learn and try to understand more about what happened. It was a moving experience and i will take a lot of memories away with me." Also Friday a special "Football 4 Peace" children's tournament, sponsored by the British Council, was held as part of a festive sports event for football fans organized by the Tel Aviv Municipality and the British Embassy in Tel Aviv's Ganei Yehoshua. Former English soccer player Brendon Batson, who is at the forefront of the Kick it Out campaign, was among the thousands of people who attended the event. "It was wonderful to see the Arab and Jewish youngsters all playing together and building relationships," he said. "When they first came down they stayed in their own communities, then they mixed them up and they played together." English fans also took advantage of the nice weather to see tourist attractions, go to the beach, drink beer in outdoor pubs and enjoy joint parties held in honor of their visit for the game.

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