'IFA head should resign if Israel plays on Shabbat'

Scharf tells 'Post' team never played soccer on Shabbat in the 8 years he was head coach of nat'l team.

shlomo scharf 88 (photo credit: )
shlomo scharf 88
(photo credit: )
Former national team coach Shlomo Scharf has called on Israel Football Association chairman Itche Menahem to resign, after learning that four of Israel's European Championship qualifying games could be played on Shabbat and the IFA has made no effort to change the times. This week the English FA said it has already decided that due to policing requirements the England-Israel match, set to be played at the new Wembley Stadium on September 8, 2007, will be played at either 3:30 p.m. or 5:30 p.m. London time, where Shabbat ends at 8.24 p.m. Scharf told The Jerusalem Post that Israel never played on Shabbat in the eight years he was head coach of the national team, from 1992 to 2000, "I think Itche Menahem should resign if he cannot arrange for the game to be played after Shabbat," Scharf said. Although the strict UEFA and FIFA match schedule has meant that Israel has been forced to play qualifiers on Shabbat in the years since Scharf's tenure - such as the game in Switzerland last year - it has been unofficial IFA policy to only do so after attempting to have the fixture moved. However, when asked on Wednesday by the Post about efforts made to move the starting time against England, Menahem seemed to have no idea that the time for the England match had been set. He said he believed the game will be on Saturday night and then blamed English television schedules for the timing when the English FA said it was the decision of the police. Menahem said he believed the decision on the timing of the game was totally up to the English officials. "They fix the time and we can't change the time because it is an away game," he said. "I agree it is an issue and I will check, but we can only decide the times of our game here in Israel." IFA spokesman Shaul Eisenberg refused to comment on the matter. When reached on his cell phone, Eisenberg responded: "Send me a fax." Scharf said: "When I was the coach we moved all the games that were supposed to be on Shabbat because its a holiday for Jewish people. Each time it was going to be [scheduled for Shabbat], we spoke to the FAs and UEFA and they understood." Since his tenure has come to an end, Scharf has been a harsh critic of the national team playing games on Shabbat. Many of the players would also prefer to see the games not played on Shabbat. Ashdod SC's David Revivo said "It's good for Israel not to play on Shabbat." He added that he hoped Menahem would appeal the game time in London and arrange that the other games be played on Saturday evenings. Maccabi Haifa's Alon Harazi preferred not to speak about the national team, but said he is part of an effort among Premier League players to have league games moved to weekdays. The IFA sent four representatives to a meeting in Dublin last month, which was arranged so that teams can outline their basic scheduling demands ahead of the official scheduling meeting. A senior member of the Estonian FA, who was part of the country's delegation to the schedule arrangement meeting, said the Israelis had made no mention of a need to not play Saturday games during the daytime. And Simon Johnson of the English FA said that the Israelis' only demand was to not play on the September 12, 2007 fixture day, which falls on Rosh Hashana. "It was quite a tense meeting where it was difficult to arrange the calendar and nobody was talking about the times of the games, only the dates," she said. "It is UEFA who makes the dates so you can't be too picky." The dates for the qualifiying games for Euro 2008 were announced last week after two rounds of meetings between Israel and the six other countries in Group E - England, Estonia, Russia, Macedonia, Croatia and Andorra. Israel always plays the Saturday home matches after sundown, but the times of the four away games that will be played on a Saturday are to be set by the host nation. Of the six away games Israel must play over the 13-month qualifying period, four of the games - at Estonia, Russia, Macedonia and England - are planned for Saturdays. This week English FA corporate affairs director Simon Johnson said he had attempted to arrange for the England vs Israel game to be held after Shabbat to allow local Jewish fans to attend. But he stressed the Israelis had not protested the time of the game, even though the local Jewish sports association, Maccabi GB, had campaigned for the time to be changed. Johnson said: "It is set as stone because an agreement has been reached. We know that not only was Maccabi asking for the game not to be played on Shabbat, we the FA were also trying to get the game not played on a Saturday as well. "What made it quite difficult was that it was important to the Israeli FA, and we shared this, that they did not play on erev Rosh Hashana which is a Wednesday night. That was when we would have preferred to play Israel. "And so in the agreement, and remember there were six other countries party to the agreement, they decided they would have to play us on the Saturday afternoon."