Local Soccer: No title game celebration for Betar

Jerusalem's next four league home matches to be away from Teddy as punishment for its role in Sunday night's tragic events.

Betar crush 2 (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
Betar crush 2
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger)
An Israeli Football Association tribunal sentenced Betar Jerusalem to play its next four home matches away from Teddy Stadium and in front of empty stands for its role in Sunday night's tragic events. Betar could face up to five more radius matches and a two-point deduction should scenes from Sunday re-occur in the next 12 months. "The punishment is aimed at the fans with the hope that this will act as a deterrent," IFA judge Israel Shimoni said. "I feel that a championship which has been tainted by the blood of the champion's fans should be celebrated in silence." The verdict means that Betar's two remaining home matches this season, against archrival Hapoel Tel Aviv this weekend and against Maccabi Netanya in the final matchday of the season, will be played far from Jerusalem with none of the club's supporters present. Betar will also need to play its first two home matches of the 2007/08 campaign away from home. Betar CEO Yoav Strauss, who represented the club at the tribunal, tried to convince Shimoni to settle for a suspended sentence claiming that, "Betar fans deserve another chance and that a suspended sentence would prevent a recurrence of Sunday's events." However, Shimoni dismissed Strauss's claims. "Betar should have learned from the events at Kiryat Eliezer in 2001 [when 15-year-old Amir Rand was crushed in the stands] and doesn't deserve a lenient punishment," he said." Shimoni also rejected the claim that the police should have done more to prevent the pitch invasion. "In the same way a criminal can't claim that he is not responsible for his actions because the police should have stopped him, the police can't be held accountable for the Betar fans' behavior." Earlier in the day, coach Yossi Mizrahi and several of his players visited the two teenagers who were seriously injured Sunday night, Ido Golan and Shahar Lazar, at Jerusalem's Hadassah-University Hospital in Ein Kerem. Golan's and Lazar's conditions both improved dramatically on Tuesday, with both boys regaining consciousness and communicating with family and friends. "We're not celebrating and not smiling. No championship is worth even a single hair from the head of an injured boy in hospital," Mizrahi said. "Soccer without fans is not soccer." Midfielder Michael Zandberg claimed that the responsibility for the events should be split between the IFA, the police and the fans. "Everybody needs to take responsibility because everybody is at fault," he said. "We would all like to play and celebrate in front of our fans at Teddy, but if playing in an empty stadium will get the message through to the fans and teach them a lesson, then so be it."