Beitar Jerusalem soccer club welcomed Muslim Chechen players Zaur Sadayev and Gabriel Kadiev to the team in a Wednesday press conference attended by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and dozens of foreign reporters.
The signing of the two came under fierce criticism by some of the team’s fan base, who oppose having Muslims play for the club. In a game that was held last Saturday, some of the fans held up a banner reading “Beitar forever pure,” and shouted racist chants. Much of the anger was directed at the team’s co-owner Arkady Gaydamak, a Russian-Jewish billionaire, who initiated the transfer.
That fan reaction, which led to three arrests, was condemned by politicians and pundits across the spectrum, but was also consistent with Beitar’s staunch nationalist identity. Beitar has never signed an Arab-Israel or Muslim player.
“Thank you for the warm welcome. I feel at home and among family,” said Sadayev. “I came here to play soccer under Beitar’s symbol and for no other reason. I hope I can please the fans.”
“We were not afraid to come. We don’t know the meaning of the word fear,” said Kadiev.
“I want to tell viewers around the world that we will not put up with racism or violence. This is an ethical statement that goes out from Jerusalem to the world,” said Barkat. “I am proud of the club and its ability to advance co-existence… We as Jews cannot discriminate players based on their religion.”
“I know that most of the fans back the decision, and hope and expect that even those who misbehaved in the past will support the coach and the players going forward,” Barkat added.
Team captain Amit Ben-Shushan welcomed the new recruits on behalf of the players. “We do not plan to engage in politics. As far as we’re concerned, we will do our best to welcome the players in the best possible fashion. The club’s success is the most important thing,” he said.
On Tuesday, before the new players joined, Beitar played against Arab-Israeli team Maccabi Umm al-Fahm. Despite the tense build up to the game, no unusual incidents were reported and Beitar ended up winning 5-0.
Fifty fans were not granted permits to enter the stadium due to previous incidents, according to Israel Radio.