From the sidelines

Violence in Israeli sports has reached a new level and we must do something before someone is killed.

Hapoel firecracker 224.8 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Hapoel firecracker 224.8
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
I was just 20 meters away from the Betar stands last week when fans booed and jeered as the announcer mentioned Yitzhak Rabin's memorial day. I was just as close when Hapoel Tel Aviv fans threw a firecracker onto the field last year, almost hitting team captain Yossi Abuksis. And earlier this week I was at the game between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Holon when in the final two minutes, a crazy fan threw a firecracker onto the court. A security guard quickly picked it up and it exploded in his hand three seconds later. Consequently, the game was canceled. The violence in Israeli sports has reached a new level and we must do something before someone is killed. To explore this important issue I talked with two fans who shared their feelings. Daniel, 24, is a Hapoel Jerusalem basketball fan. "There is quite a big difference between a flare [which are regularly waved during games] and a firecracker," he says. "As far as I know, no one has ever been injured by a flare, but as you know this week, a security guard was hurt [by a firecracker]. "A flare is routine," he explains. "It's a kind of war among the fans and it gives an impact to the game in the right spirit. A firecracker crosses the line. "Hapoel Holon's fans are legendary in Israeli basketball, comparable to the fans of Betar and Hapoel Tel Aviv," he continues. "All over the world, basketball attracts 'good guys,' fans who are typically more intelligent than those who follow soccer," says Daniel. "At basketball games [as opposed to soccer games], you tend to see more families, children and women." Even so, "I know as a fan that we use verbal violence, I can't deny it," he says. "I also know all the crazy Hapoel Jerusalem fans and I can promise you that all of us know the limit between verbal and physical violence." But "soccer is a different story," he explains. "In soccer the situation is disgraceful. Every year there are many who are injured [at games], and fans who boo Rabin and call for 'death to the Arabs.' "Israeli society is causing this deterioration," says Daniel. "The education system is collapsing and we are losing our values. "It [violent behavior] comes from school, it comes from home and it comes from the streets," he explains. "The soccer field is a mirror of society. "Soccer is a game of the working class," he continues, "so if the working class is healthy and they have a basic level of moral education and respect, violence will be absent. But if the state neglects these issues, they will come back as a boomerang. In addition, "If a fan injures someone at a game, that fan and his team should be punished," says Daniel. "But it's only a band-aid solution to a greater problem. The real solution has to get at the root of the problem." I also spoke with a Hapoel Holon fan who was at the Hapoel Holon-Hapoel Jerusalem game this week. The 23-year-old fan, who preferred to remain anonymous, has followed Hapoel Holon since he was a child. "This incident [with the firecracker] happened because there are stupid and fanatical people who don't care about basketball and don't take into account the consequences [of such actions]," he says. "Pyrotechnics at the games, like flares, heighten the exciting atmosphere and get fans' adrenalin flowing," he says. That said, "I think the day a fan is sentenced to three years in jail for throwing a firecracker onto the court, is the day people will think twice before they do such a thing. "The guy who threw the firecracker [during this week's game] should sit in jail for a long time," he adds. "Because of him, that security guard was hurt. "The problem is that Hapoel Holon has become like soccer's Betar Jerusalem: The media and the basketball union is against us - but this time justifiably so. He adds: "Hapoel Holon is a great club, but now it has been stained by this one stupid fan." As a sports fan since a young age and a sports photographer over the last few years, I've heard many instances of verbal violence and on more than one occasion have witnessed physical violence both in the stands and outside. Emotions and adrenalin are part of the game and people come to games for release, but when someone gets hurt, it makes me question why I attend matches and what's the fun in this hobby. I don't think that there are just a few fans, like from soccer's Betar Jerusalem or basketball's Hapoel Holon, who are violent. I know of and have witnessed many other violent displays with other teams like Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Tel Aviv, which haven't been covered by the media. In most cases, we sweep the problem under the carpet. Everybody talks about curbing violence, but little is actually done. So while we may be awarded an A for our rhetoric, in practice we only deserve an F.