The Knesset Committee for Social Justice and Equality met on Wednesday to discuss the discrimination in Israeli sports against athletes who are Shomer Shabbos. Committee Chairperson Mk Miki Zohar said during the meeting that 70 percent of Israeli soccer players have come out and said that they do not want to participate in matches that take place on Shabbos.
“The policy of this governmental office has changed drastically since Minister for Sports and Culture Miri Regev has taken office. I know that you are all facing stiff opposition from the organizations and non-governmental bodies that you work with. There are plenty of industry executives out there who, from an ideological perspective have no problem with people getting hurt over this issue.”
Zohar added that many talented youths don’t even explore the field because they want to avoid facing a choice to either play or be excluded from competitive sports later in life. “One of the main problems with soccer is that there aren’t even places for children or teens who are Shomer Shabbat to play the game during the week. If the fields are there, then the lighting is off because there is no budget for it. In order to rectify the situation and bring the sport in this country up to speed, we would need a budget of billions of shekel to do the job properly, build the fields and maintain them open during the entire week for competitions”.
Director of the Ministry of Sports and Culture Yossi Sharabi made a dramatic statement during the discussion. “According to the policy laid down by the Minister, a new pre-requisite will be put into place in all official leagues in Israel that the leagues will be responsible to supply an option for Shomer Shabbat athletes to compete in any league-mandated competition without impinging upon their right to live a religious lifestyle.” While the leagues can still receive their allocated budget of 180-billion NIS while holding competitions on Shabbat as long as they can prove that all efforts to find an alternative solution to competing on Shabbat have been exhausted.
Yaron Hochenbaum, a coach of many years at the professional level said that he too would much rather observe the Shabbat but that his team forces him not only to show up at games played on Shabbat but then to hold interviews after every victory, whether it takes place on Shabbat or not. “They force me to interview and if I refuse the fine me between 7,000 – 8,000 NIS.”
(YWN Israel Desk – Jerusalem)