Betar Muslim signings mark positive change

Sinai Says: Whatever the reasoning behind Gaydamak’s decision, it could bring the change Israeli soccer has long yearned for.

Dzhabrail Kadiyev 370 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Dzhabrail Kadiyev 370
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
No one really knows what Arkadi Gaydamak’s interests were in signing Muslim players Dzhabrail Kadiyev and Zaur Sadayev from Chechen club Terek Grozny.
Was he looking to promote his business enterprises with the soccer-loving President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov? Or perhaps he was only searching for a way back into the limelight after years in the shadows.
Who knows, maybe he even intended all along to take a stand against racism.
Whatever the reasoning behind the Betar Jerusalem owner’s decision, it could prove to be the impetus to a change Israeli soccer has long yearned for.
No one can quite put a finger on the exact moment that the club with a fan base generally affiliated with right-wing leanings became a hub for several hundred racists proud of their anti-Muslim xenophobia.
Betar doesn’t, and has never had, any official policy against signing Muslim players.
However, no one has dared to take on the bigots since the racist vocal and violent minority chased poor Nigerian defender Ibrahim Nadalla out of town in 2005 for being guilty of the heinous crime of practicing the religion of Islam.
Gaydamak toyed with the idea of signing an Arab player during the team’s heyday five years ago and chairman Itzik Kornfein has been receiving life threats for years for having the nerve to try and educate the extremists when he saw how damaging their conduct was to the club.
Kornfein had little success dealing with the racists, but Gaydamak’s decision to choose to sign two players from Chechnya for reasons that likely have absolutely nothing to do with sports brought the problem to the forefront once more, and this time it seems no one has any intention of sweeping it under the carpet.
The gulf between the group that numbers several hundred so-called fans and the hundreds of thousands of normative Betar supporters was as clear as ever in the team’s match on Sunday at Hapoel Ramat Hasharon.
The xenophobes spent almost the entire match swearing at unused substitute Kadiyev, as well as Kornfein and coach Eli Cohen, for their insistence on signing the Chechens.
However, unlike in previous instances, they also turned on what they believe is ‘their’ team.
Goalkeeper Ariel Harush was received with boos every time he touched the ball after he defied the racists and spoke out against their treatment of Kadiyev and Sadayev on his Facebook page, with Ramat Hasharon’s 84thminute winner being welcomed with cheers by the rebellious faction which irrationally celebrated their team’s defeat.
The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court barred the entrance of 50 Betar fans to the State Cup match against Maccabi Umm-al Fahm last week following a request by the club due to their involvement in the racist chants and banners raised during last Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to Bnei Yehuda.
However, even without those 50 thugs, the bigots turned Sunday’s match into a disgusting display of malice which tarnished the club’s reputation even further.
After years of turning a blind eye, Kornfein forced Betar players to speak out on Monday against those supposed-supporters who have chosen to rebel against the club.
Kornfein also pleaded with the Attorney General of Israel, Yehuda Weinstein, to step up the measures already in force in the fight against racism.
The off-field distractions have taken their toll on Betar, with the team losing the two matches it has played since Gaydamak announced the arrival of Kadiyev and Sadayev.
However, there is a far more important battle taking place, one which should have been waged long ago.
Finally, everyone involved has acknowledged the importance of ridding Betar, Israeli soccer and local sports as a whole from a bunch of blasphemous bigots who have been allowed to run riot for far too long.
Gaydamak may not have meant it, but due to his latest unfathomable undertaking, Israeli sports is on its way to being in a better place.