Negative atmosphere discourages 37 percent of supporters from attending local soccer matches.
By ALLON SINAI
More than a third of Israeli soccer fans do not attend local matches because of the perceived widespread racism and violence in stadiums, according to a survey released this week.
The study, conducted by the New Israel Fund, also revealed that 60 percent of the public feel that law-enforcement agencies and the courts don't do enough to curb the phenomenon.
Some 58% of the 506 respondents said that they follow the Israeli league, but just 8% of those fans said they visit a soccer ground more than once every two months.
"The New Israel Fund's interest in the matter is a moral one, but we want to show that this isn't just a moral issue but a financial one as well," founder of the Israeli "Kick Racism Out of Football" campaign, Itzik Shanan, told The Jerusalem Post, pointing to the millions of shekels in ticket sales the clubs are losing out on by failing to attract supporters.
"This is just another incentive for this multi-million shekel industry to eradicate the problem," he added.
While the violence at Israeli soccer is not comparable to that which plagued English soccer in the 1970s and 80s and continues to be a problem in European countries such as Italy and Turkey, it is still enough to put fans off going to games.
Just last week Hapoel Tel Aviv supporters caused their team's UEFA Cup match against Siroki Brijeg in Bosnia to be stopped for 20 minutes after they lit firecrackers which set fire to some of the stadium's seats.
Last season Hapoel Tel Aviv, Maccabi Haifa and Maccabi Tel Aviv fans all clashed with police during games early into the campaign, and dozens of Betar Jerusalem supporters were injured during a crowd crush at the team's game against Hapoel Petah Tikva at Teddy Stadium when the police refused to allow them on to the field to celebrate winning the league title.
In Israeli stadiums black players are regularly abused by supporters and Arab players face slurs at many of their team's away matches.
Shanan's campaign is based on the English "Kick it Out" campaign, which used players and celebrities in its successful fight against racism and violence at soccer grounds.
The Israel Football Association is traditionally blamed for failing to deal with the problem, but Shanan is optimistic that new chairman Avi Luzon will finally help to bring around the change.
"After many years of cooperation that didn't lead to any real change, the IFA has shown signs recently that this will be a breakthrough year in fighting the problem," he said.
"We will support the IFA and monitor it to make sure that the Israeli public gets what it wants."
Maccabi Netanya fan Oren Tuchmay has held a season ticket for years, but even he is finally getting fed-up with the violence and racism at his home stadium.
"I wouldn't take my children or my wife to a match," he said. "I even considered stopping going myself because of the swearing and violence.
"Some fans shout out awful things and somebody should put a stop to it."
The IFA last week presented Internal Security Minister Avi Dichter and Science, Culture and Sports Minister Ghaleb Majadle with a proposal intended to help in the fight against violence in stadiums.
"The Israel Football Association is systematically and comprehensively working to fight violence and racism in football," IFA spokesperson Gil Levanony said. "We've said many times that these phenomenons must be stamped out before they drag football down into an abyss."
Levanony said the association is working on the educational level as well as working on a new bill against violence in soccer stadiums which was formulated by a team of lawyers, headed by Dr. Dana Fogatz, who flew to England to adapt the English law to Israel.
The IFA has also updated its regulations, Levanony added. From now on any club convicted of violence or racial abuse will be fined NIS 10,000 and have to play a home match behind closed doors at an alternative stadium. A second conviction will see the club fined NIS 20,000 and face two home matches away from home in front of empty stands. For a third conviction the club will be deducted two points and fined NIS 30,000.
On Wednesday Maccabi Tel Aviv became the first team to be punished under the new regulations after one of its fans hit Ashdod SC's goalkeeper with a cup during a match at Tel Aviv's Bloomfield Stadium on Monday.
Maccabi was hit with the regulatory NIS 10,000 fine and will be forced to play one scheduled home match away from Bloomfield behind closed doors.
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