The Israel Football Association (IFA) came down hard on one of the country’s most popular teams, Beitar Jerusalem FC, banning it for one year from UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) competitions.
The ban was imposed as a punishment for the actions of the team’s fans when it won Israel’s State Cup at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa on May 23. Celebrating Beitar fans stormed the field in violation of league rules.
Fans also set fires, and because of the threat to his safety, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, who was there to present the cup to the game’s winners, had to be evacuated.
Maccabi Netanya, which lost the cup match to Beitar Jerusalem 3-0, will represent Israel in the UEFA Europa Conference League instead.
Professional soccer teams are generally held accountable the world over for poor behavior on the part of their fans. For example, some games have been played in empty stadiums when leagues punished them for what their fans did.
The Israel Football Association’s decision on the matter stated that the cup final, which should have been a national celebration, instead became “a shameful and humiliating event, the likes of which Israeli football has never known.”
“Even if, according to Beit Hillel custom [this refers to the group in the Talmud known to take a lenient position on matters of Jewish law], we allowed the accused to add and hold the title,” the IFA said, “we were unable to find proper reasons to allow it to also enjoy the fruits and economic rights that accompany it, contrary to the statutes.”
In response, Beitar Jerusalem issued a statement saying that it “received with astonishment the punishment imposed on the Beitar Jerusalem football club by the judges of the football association.”
Beitar added that the decision “severely damages the club, the hundreds of thousands of the team’s fans, sports in Israel and the city of Jerusalem, which is expecting and preparing to host a football match in a European setting.”
Saying that it intends to appeal the ruling, Beitar Jerusalem added that it “won the cup very justly and in a fair and sporting manner and we expect that the judges will be able to overturn the decision and that common sense will prevail, and as soon as possible, so that we can quickly prepare for the goal that is before our eyes, which is participation in the Conference League qualifiers.”
The IFA joined the Asian Football Association in 1954 but was expelled in 1974 due to pressure from Muslim members. The IFA was admitted to UEFA as an associate member in 1992 and as a full member in 1994.
In sports such as soccer, the professional teams that win a country’s championship compete the following year in a champions’ league.