Weekend soccer called off over Saturday work dispute

Weekend soccer called off over Saturday work dispute

Calls for PM to intervene; Shabbat suspension would also impact children's leagues, and Muslim and Christian players

Illustrative photo of soccer players (photo credit:  Kobi Gideon/Flash90 )
Illustrative photo of soccer players (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/Flash90 )

The Israel Football Association red-carded all soccer leagues in the country, calling off all games over the weekend until a legal dispute over matches played on Saturday is resolved.

In a unanimous decision Tuesday, IFA’s governing officials decided on the cancellation after a deadline to resolve the dispute passed without any solution.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev proposed a compromise to the legal wrangle in which Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein would issue a temporary permit for two months allowing games on Shabbat, when many religious Jews refrain from work.

A specially convened pan-ministerial committee would, in the meantime, work on a finding a permanent solution to the problem.

“This is not a religious war, and there won’t be a religious war,” IFA Chairman Ofer Eini said. “We are interested in maintaining the status quo and to obtain a permit that will assure that we can operate within the law and in the framework of the law.”

Last week, Eini announced that unless Economy Minister Aryeh Deri issued a work permit officially allowing players, coaches and association staff to practice or play on Saturdays, all matches would be suspended until further notice, starting this weekend. But Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, is thought unlikely to intervene.

Eini’s ultimatum came on the heels of a ruling by a Labor Court Judge Ariella Glitzer who last week said that organizing or participating in soccer matches on Saturdays — the Jewish day of rest — was technically illegal, and ordered the IFA obtain a work waiver from Deri.

“We can consider all kinds of offers, but the bottom line must be clear — we will go back to playing only if it is clear to us that there is no criminal offense.”

Glitzer made her decision after hundreds of players petitioned the IFA, refusing to play games on the day of rest, which lasts from sunset on Friday until nightfall on Saturday.

In their letter, the athletes claimed that requiring them to play on Saturdays violated Israel’s Work and Rest Hours law, a largely ignored 1951 piece of legislation that prohibits employees from working on Shabbat without a special dispensation from the economy minister.

IFA officials argue that the majority of the 30,000 players on 1,000 teams that will be affected by the Saturday soccer suspension are school-aged children.

The IFA also noted Tuesday that if no waiver is granted, professional soccer would also be illegal for Israeli Muslims on Friday and Christians on Sunday, and that all other sports would be similarly affected.

Its legal adviser Efraim Barak noted that ultimately authority on the issue rests with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and urged him to intervene and approve the waiver.

AFP contributed to this report.

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