Beitar Jerusalem docked 4 points for next season after supporters’ riot at cup final

Team will be allowed to play in national tournament after appealing decision by soccer’s governing body following fans’ pitch invasion; club accepts decision ‘with great regret’

Beitar Jerusalem fans storm the field at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, May 23, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Beitar Jerusalem fans storm the field at Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, May 23, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The Beitar Jerusalem soccer team will have four points deducted at the start of the next season but will be allowed to play in the cup tournament after it appealed a punishment that was meted out following rioting by fans earlier this year.

An additional three points will be deducted if fans riot again during a league or cup game.

According to a majority 3-2 decision by the top tribunal of the sport’s governing body, the Israel Football Association (IFL), the team will be able to play in next season’s cup tournament after its suspension from the tournament was switched from actual to conditional.

In addition, the team will not be forced to hold its home games at a stadium other than its own, but will pay a fine of NIS 70,000 (approximately $19,000).

The head of the tribunal, retired judge Amnon Strashnov, was one of the two who voted against the new, more lenient punishment for the team, the Walla news site reported.

In a statement, the club said that it “accepts with great regret the decision of the tribunal of the Football Association,” and expresses displeasure at the final decision.

“At the same time, as far as the club is concerned, the events of the State Cup final are over and done with,” the team tweeted.

A senior unnamed official from the team decried the “very heavy punishment” in comments to the Sport 5 website. If the team were to appeal the decision by the sport’s top body, it would need to take the case to the Jerusalem District Court, the site reported.

Supporters of the Jerusalem team, known for its hardcore fanbase with a violent and racist contingent, stormed the pitch in May after their club captured its eighth-ever State Cup.

Fans set fires and broke up a ceremony as President Isaac Herzog attempted to award medals to the winning team, reportedly making off with some of the hardware.

The team was initially banned from a European tournament next year, but that too was dropped on appeal.

When the Europe ban was first announced, hundreds of Beitar Jerusalem fans staged a loud rally outside the home of IFA prosecutor Nir Reshef in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, blasting fireworks into the air and engaging in minor vandalism in protest.

Videos from the scene posted on social media showed fans chanting slogans such as “Nir Reshef is dead” and “You have a corrupt neighbor.”

The IFA at the time issued a statement saying that the tribunal judges who had decided on the punishment received death threats, and some of their phone numbers were circulated. The association said it had filed a police complaint.

Right-wing politicians, many of whom support the team, also criticized the previous decision by the soccer authorities.

Following Beitar’s 3-0 win against Netanya at Haifa’s Sammy Ofer stadium, supporters of the Jerusalem team rushed the pitch in celebration.

Herzog was hustled off the field under heavy security, and held a makeup ceremony for the team at his Jerusalem residence the next day.

Officials initially considered stripping the team of its title, drawing a lawsuit threat from the team.

The final of the Israeli state cup between Maccabi Netanya and Beitar Jerusalem at the Sammy Ofer Stadium in Haifa, May 23, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Beitar, founded in 1936, is the country’s most controversial soccer club, thanks to the racism and violence of portions of its fan base.

Beitar Jerusalem is the only club in Israel’s Premier League to have never signed an Arab player, and its most vocal and extremist fan club — known as La Familia — can often be heard chanting “Death to Arabs” from the eastern stand of Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem.

Last year, then-defense minister Benny Gantz suggested La Familia be labeled a terrorist organization after it was involved in violence during the Jerusalem Day Flag March.

The team has publicly distanced itself from the ultras supporters group.

Fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team hold up a sign reading ‘Beitar forever pure,’ during a match on January 26, 2013. (Flash90)

Last month, an Arab player from the Israel national soccer team was subjected to racist chants and jeering during a Euro 2024 tournament qualifier at Teddy Stadium.

According to Channel 12 news, as a result, the national soccer team is mulling a request not to play home games at Beitar Jerusalem’s home stadium.

The squad may make the request after fans booed Israeli midfielder Mohammed Abu Fani, including calling him a “terrorist,” during the team’s 2-1 win over Andorra.

A group of fans was arrested last year after rivals Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team’s training center was severely damaged in an arson attack, and there have been multiple other incidents of violence and racism by Beitar Jerusalem fans.

Two Muslim Chechen players Beitar Jerusalem signed a decade ago were hounded out of the club. After the players were signed, the team’s own fans set fire to their club’s headquarters.ֿֿ

Michael Bachner contributed to this report.

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