Sinai Says: Soccer fan violence must be rooted out

And it has to be done before it's too late.

The ridiculous sporting notion that verbal abuse in the form of fan taunting and jeering is unlikely to result in physical violence was sadly proven wrong yet again at Teddy Stadium on Saturday night.
Dozens of Betar Jerusalem fans are alleged to have assaulted two teenage Arab janitors during the halftime break of the team’s 2-0 victory over Ashdod SC, tarnishing the club’s already racist reputation even further.
Bigoted anti-Arab chants are, of course, nothing new for Betar fans, but Saturday’s incident set a dangerous precedent which should worry anyone who holds Israeli soccer close to his or her heart.
Racism is not just a problem among Jerusalem supporters, but a growing epidemic in stadiums throughout the country.
It is safe to say that at a majority of Premier League soccer matches you will be exposed to a fair share of xenophobia, usually anti-Arab, but also anti-Jewish when an Arab team is involved.
The two victims from Saturday, Mohammed Abu-Rumeila and Udai Abu-Sabah, may have only suffered minor injuries, but that shouldn’t diminish the severity of this incident.
If immediate measures are not taken, it might not be long before lives are lost at stadiums.
Much of the focus in the aftermath of such disgusting episodes is placed on a club’s responsibility to eradicate the negative elements from among its fans.
However, Betar chairman Itzik Kornfein was completely correct in his assessment that ultimately it is up to the police and the judicial system to clamp down on the criminals who in no way deserve to be called fans.
“We are helpless in these kinds of situations,” Kornfein said in a meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and the victims of the assault on Monday. “This is a criminal act and the police must deal with it.
“If this would have happened anywhere other than a soccer stadium the offenders would have been arrested. I don’t think a soccer stadium should be treated differently than any other public arena.”
Police apprehended three suspects, including one minor, for allegedly being involved in Saturday’s attack and said more arrests are expected.
However, despite being paid, at the very least, tens-of-thousands of shekels to secure each Premier League soccer match, the police seem to have little interest in doing their job and are usually more than content with shepherding the fans into the stadium and allowing them to do as they please once they’re inside.
Perhaps even more unsettling is the judicial system’s lenient approach towards fan violence. Even when the authorities finally manage to catch those involved in the shameful behavior, the courts tend to release delinquents with no more than a slap on their wrist.
Making matters even worse is the fact that there is no effective system in place to make sure such offenders are kept out of stadiums, meaning they can usually return to the scene of their crime and break the exact same law yet again.
“We don’t have the apparatus needed to keep fans away from the stadium,” Kornfein said. “All we can do is denounce this behavior and call for it to stop. The police and judicial system are responsible for putting these people behind bars.”
It may be tempting to ignore this growing problem with the excuse that it consists of just a minute percentage of soccer fans in Israel. However, it is that exact attitude that resulted in vehement words quickly deteriorating into ugly and violent actions at Teddy on Saturday night, and if nothing is done soon the situation will only continue to spiral out of control.
The time has come for the Israel Football Association, the clubs andthe vast majority of soccer supporters in the country to place pressureon the decision-makers to finally deracinate this disgrace.
For if nothing is done soon, the few bad seeds will spreaduncontrollably, leaving everyone involved with local soccer wishingthey had done something before it was too late.