Franco: Betar match had reduced police protection

38 injured in crush as thousands of fans charge onto field of play after game; police set up special probe into incident.

betar crush 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
betar crush 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Israeli soccer woke up Monday morning after one of the saddest days in its history following Sunday night's crowd stampede by Betar Jerusalem fans at Teddy Stadium which left two teenagers hospitalized in serious condition. The boys, 14 and 15, were still in intensive care at Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem, suffering from injuries caused by severe pressure to the chest area. Thousands of Betar fans stormed the field after their club's 2-0 victory over Hapoel Petah Tikva, crushing dozens of supporters, who were trapped against the fences and the exits which lead from the stands to the field. Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen announced Monday that a special investigative team would be set up to assess the events that led to the fans storming the field. Police Traffic Division head Cmdr. Avi Ben-Hemmo and three other senior officers will make up the team that will look into police conduct. Cohen ordered that their findings must be submitted by Thursday. "What happened here wasn't supposed to happen. The match was not Betar's championship match," said Jerusalem District Cmdr. Ilan Franco. Franco also stressed that the police could not have been expected to prepare for such an event. Nevertheless, most of the blame has been placed on the police, who failed to open the narrow gates that allow access from the stands to the field in a timely fashion, creating a human bottleneck. "The injuries could have been prevented if the gates would have been opened quickly," said Moshe Suissa, head of Jerusalem's Fire and Rescue Services. "We predicted that there would be a pitch invasion. The only way to prevent such events is to remove the fences. We will recommend to do so ahead of next week's match." Sunday's disturbance was just the latest in a string of crowd stampedes by Israeli soccer fans. In May 2001, 15-year-old Maccabi Haifa fan Amir Rand was crushed at Kiryat Eliezer and suffered brain damage from which he will never fully recover. Israel Football Association chairman Avi Luzon blamed Betar's fans and announced that the club will face an IFA tribunal on Tuesday. "The fans are to blame," he said. "They acted like a herd of elephants. Invading the pitch is a criminal offense." The chairman also said that as of next season, teams will face an automatic point deduction for pitch invasions. "Our aim is to punish the unruly supporters who fail to behave in the appropriate manner," he said. "We want women and children to come to the stadiums and make the game fun again. "The IFA feels that all fences should be removed in the stadiums. We approached the Jerusalem police several times in the last three years requesting to remove the fences at Teddy Stadium." Luzon also hinted that Betar's match against Hapoel Tel Aviv next week may not be played in front of fans at Teddy. "I'm not sure the match will take place in Teddy and I'm not sure fans will be present," he said. "If it does take place at Teddy, I will meet the inspector-general and we will prepare for the worst-case scenario."