Messi isn’t the be-all and end-all

We need to look inwards at who we really are and where our values as a people lie.

Argentina's Lionel Messi (photo credit: REUTERS)
Argentina's Lionel Messi
(photo credit: REUTERS)
We have plenty of amazing athletes in Israel.
We really do. There are many role models, whether they play soccer, basketball, judo or handball ,and it’s time that we begin to appreciate them a little bit more.
Against all odds, Israelis have reached the highest of heights in many different sports and have played and appeared at major tournaments and competitions across the globe. It’s time for us to do some soul-searching as to who we look up to and admire.
With the Argentina national soccer team announcing that it won’t come to Israel to play a pre-World Cup friendly in Jerusalem, anger and disappointment have reigned supreme throughout the country. Arguably the biggest star of the past decade, Lionel Messi won’t be visiting the Holy Land, and that has upset millions.
Reasons for the cancellation have been numerous from the coach not wanting to take the team out of training camp for the World Cup, to Messi and his family being threatened by terrorists, to the BDS activists, we’ve heard them all. Where does the truth lie? Probably somewhere in between.
What disturbs me the most is how we as a people here in Israel worship the ground that Messi walks on. Why are so many children running around with his jersey in Israel and why is he treated by us as a god?
From Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev begging for Argentina to change its mind, it’s as if a criminal offense has taken place.
Certainly it’s a disgrace that Argentina decided to break the contract and not come to Israel, and it’s an even bigger disgrace that Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian soccer association can freely speak the way he does against Israel and say Messi’s jersey should be burned if he steps foot in Israel. But we need to look inwards at who we really are and where our values as a people lie.
Why not wear an Israel national team shirt of any sport and support the many Israelis not only playing in the country but outside of it as well? How about looking up to our Olympic athletes, from judo to swimming to track? There are many teams playing both domestically and in Europe that have provided the country and its people much pride over the years. From Maccabi Tel Aviv in both soccer and basketball to Hapoel Jerusalem, Nahariya and even down south to Hapoel Eilat, let’s understand that this is our country, our one and only.
We have much to be proud of, but we need to begin the process of educating our youth that the Messis and Ronaldos are not the be-alls and end-alls. Sure it’s fun to watch them and we should appreciate them as well, but at the end of the day we need to support our own athletes and those who decide to play and represent our country.
Bringing Argentina to Israel would have been nice, but at the price that we were going to pay for this privilege we could have put the money into developing our youth sports programs throughout the country. We need to truly look at what Zionism through sports really is and Messi coming to play 90 minutes is just not it.
The writer covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents