The Last Word: IFA’s responsibility to the nation’s youth

If soccer matches are de facto off limits for the nation’s youth we are in a particularly sorry state.

On Wednesday the Knesset committee for children’s rights held a session discussing how to attract more families and kids to Israeli soccer stadiums.
This was indeed a noble notion – sports arenas should be the realm of the entire population, with youngsters not being priced out of games or put off by an overly unruly atmosphere.
That each club provides only a limited number of reduced-price children’s tickets, often not meeting the demand, is a situation worthy of criticism and committee chairman MK Danny Danon, was right to speak out against such situations existing in the Premier League.
According to stated league policies, 20 percent of tickets at each match should be made available at half-price to under-16s or soldiers.
While this quota is far lower than it should be, a report presented at Wednesday’s meeting illustrated that the majority of the top flight clubs aren’t even meeting this minimum.
All 16 teams were asked to provide price information to the committee, but only five – Hapoel Ra’anana, Hapoel Haifa, Bnei Yehuda, Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Haifa – responded.
Danon promised to take action against the clubs if they cannot prove they are doing their utmost to give children the chance to watch live soccer.
These games are an important part of Israeli culture and should serve as an inspiration for youngsters around the country.
If soccer matches are de facto off limits for the nation’s youth we are in a particularly sorry state.
At the Knesset meeting, a pair of young Hapoel Tel Aviv fans told a heartbreaking story of how they had travelled to watch their team at Maccabi Herzliya a few years back.
When they arrived, they were told there were no youth tickets left and, without enough money to pay for a pair of tickets, they ended up waiting outside.
Unfortunately this isn’t a isolated incident. There appear to be few checks in place to ensure that the quotas are enforced and all too often unscrupulous young men who are well over 16 take advantage of ticket sellers’ lack of care and buy up the half-price tickets for themselves.
The idea of a quota is fair enough. Soccer is a business and it is not up to the sport’s governing body or the government at-large to force the clubs to sell an unlimited number of cheap tickets.
But 20 percent is way too low and leaves too many children and soldiers out in the cold.
The politicians should encourage the Israel Football Association to raise the quota up to 40 percent and then make sure the figure is imposed and enforced across the board.
It was also surprising to read in the committee’s report that only one team in the entire top division, Maccabi Haifa, sets aside a section of the stadium for families.
When I first started going to soccer games with my dad back in 1980s Britain, stadiums were not child-friendly, to say the least.
It was the tail-end of the hooliganism era and I vividly remember packs of skinheads at Wembley for England games and the reports of violent clashes after the matches.
This all changed at the turn of the decade following the 1989 Hillsborough disaster when 96 people were crushed to death at a Liverpool-Nottingham Forest FA Cup semifinal, and with the introduction of the Premier League.
Although many supporters bemoan a lack of atmosphere with the introduction of all-seater stadiums, it definitely made English soccer more family-friendly.
Soon family and kids zones sprung up in nearly every stadium and these days attending a game is almost a totally different experience.
This is not to say the atmosphere should be shut out completely.Matches always have, and always will, be a place for men to vent theirfrustrations and foul language will never be totally obliterated.
However, all clubs must include areas where youngsters and families canfeel comfortable, without even getting into the discussion of poorquality facilities.
Wednesday’s meeting should provide a wake up call for the IFA and theclubs and remind them of their responsibility to keep the sportavailable to everyone.