In the United States, we’ve seen how NFL players can drive a social issue to national prominence. The refusal by players to stand for the national anthem brought the issue of racial justice to the fore. In Israel too, athletes can be leaders for social justice.
Last Wednesday, several hundred people packed into the VIP section of the Ramat Gan National Stadium to meet the world’s first soccer Team for Social Responsibility. It comprised top male and female players from all Israel’s population sectors. The team will leverage the celebrity status and role model potential of Israeli players from all leagues and all backgrounds to promote values of social responsibility.
The Team for Social Responsibility was initiated by NIF’s Let’s Kick Racism and Violence out of Israeli Football in partnership with the Israel Football Association and Israel Football Players Organization (IFPO) and with the support of UEFA (the European soccer association), Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), and FIFPro, the world soccer players organization.
NIF Israel Executive Director Mickey Gitzin said, “Israeli soccer is a marvelous means for promoting equal opportunities for all sections of Israeli society and for the benefit of everybody. The Team for Social Responsibility’s task will be to promote these values and get its message across to the fans.”
Maccabi Haifa striker and IFPO chairman Maor Buzaglo said, “It is not sufficient just to talk. Players must set a personal example in their behaviour both on the pitch and off it. In my meetings with youth, I tell them how I came to the team in the Arab town of Sakhnin as a young Jewish player and was welcomed with great love by the team and its fans.”
In total, there were 14 members of the team present at the event who had been selected for their commitment to social values. In attendance were dozens of activists representing organizations and charities promoting rights for minorities, people in poverty and people with disabilities. Many officials, owners, media figures and leaders in football came and presided over the festivities as well.
At the event, a new website about the Team for Social Responsibility was launched and a video clip in Hebrew and Arabic about the team was screened. The video will be shown on Israel’s major TV stations and distributed to clubs.
Maharan Radi, an Arab midfielder on Hapoel Beer Sheva said, “Life is too short to waste energy on anger and hatred. It is better to live with love, tolerance, and respect. When unpleasant things happened to me, it only strengthened me.”
The launch featured a panel discussion on the role of players as role models. Israel women’s national team defender Oshrat Eini said, “Sportspeople must be agents for change. We want to see a more equal society in Israel and not only in sport.”
The Team for Social Responsibility will embark on a national tour in the coming weeks. They will be visiting cities and communities throughout Israel for special events promoting the team’s values.