UEFA official calls for inclusiveness in Israeli soccer

Patrick Gasser visits Israel to promote "Action Week in Europe" a campaign conducted by the UEFA-affiliated body Fighting against Racism in Europe (FARE).

gasser 88 (photo credit: )
gasser 88
(photo credit: )
The UEFA official responsible for managing the organization's humanitarian and educational causes has said he believes all Israeli clubs should be willing to contract Arab players. Patrick Gasser was in Israel over the weekend to promote "Action Week in Europe" a campaign conducted by the UEFA-affiliated body Fighting against Racism in Europe (FARE). During his time in Israel he attended Sunday evening's Israeli Premier League match between Betar Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv at Jerusalem's Teddy Stadium. Although it is not an official policy, no Arab player has ever played for Israeli champion Betar, despite owner Arkadi Gaydamak's insistence that he would allow the club's coach to employ one. Asked about the situation at Betar, Gasser told The Jerusalem Post "We are against any kind of racism or discrimination including any sort of violence. I think no club should have a policy which places restrictions on ethnicity or religious background whatsoever. "Nobody has asked Israeli clubs to contract players from abroad but if you have in your country citizens of different backgrounds and they perform well I think they get to qualify to play in Israeli football no matter what their background is. I think that's the way it should be." Gasser's visit was coordinated by the New Israel Fund (NIF), the organization which has been running the Israeli "Kick Racism out of Football" campaign. He came in the place of UEFA President Michel Platini who was unable to make it to Israel but supported the NIF's efforts. The NIF held a series of demonstrative events at the start of league matches this weekend, including at Betar and Hapoel Tel Aviv on Monday where players wore T-shirts bearing the Kick it Out and FARE logos. Gasser also spoke about the significance of the goal Abbas Suan, then the captain of Arab team Bnei Sakhnin scored for Israel against Ireland in 2005. "It was a wonderful story," he said. "It makes a difference and brings the issue to the top." Although the goal was welcomed by the majority of Israeli soccer fans, Betar supporters unfurled a banner at a subsequent game proclaiming that Suan "does not represent them". Gasser said he felt it is only a matter of time before even the Betar fans are convinced that the situation must change. "I think we should tackle these through the programs of the New Israel Fund and over the years this club and their fans will accept the fact they have an Arab player," he said. "If you have players who can make a difference to win championships, players who score the decisive goals or make the decisive defensive move, I think that can be a way to change the opinions. "In other leagues across Europe they introduced players from abroad. Be they black or not, they have played well and won fans." The Kick it Out campaign has won the support of the soccer players association, the Israeli league, Israel Football Association and the Ministry of Sports. NIF chairman Itzik Shanan said he was excited by the situation. "We see it as a major breakthrough in our campaign that all of the bodies are joining forces. This is something we never saw before on an Israeli pitch," he said.