Hapoel Tel Aviv forfeits soccer game to protest security measures raised after brawl

Following chaos at match earlier this week, fans told to arrive three hours before kick off and those without IDs turned away, infuriating team’s owner

Illustrative: Hapoel Tel Aviv against Maccabi Tel Aviv at the final of the State Cup in at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, June 2, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
Illustrative: Hapoel Tel Aviv against Maccabi Tel Aviv at the final of the State Cup in at the Bloomfield Stadium in Tel Aviv, June 2, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer team forfeited Thursday night’s match against rival Maccabi Tel Aviv to protest police security policies put in place after an outbreak of violence at a game earlier this week.

On Tuesday, ahead of a game between the two teams at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium, police arrested around 120 people for fighting with the other team’s supporters, clashing with police, and possessing contraband.

Police uncovered many of the confiscated weapons and fireworks in a storage area connected to the Hapoel fan club. Two officers were injured by thrown objects, police said, while fans accused officers of using excessive force.

To head off further chaos, police asked Hapoel Tel Aviv fans to arrive at Bloomfield for Thursday’s game at 6 p.m., three hours before the match. Thousands of fans followed the instruction and arrived early, but the security team operating the entrance arrived 45 minutes late, angering those waiting, Haaretz reported.

When the gates were eventually opened, fans were asked to present their ID cards, regardless of their age, and entry was denied to those who did not have one.

Upon receiving reports of what was unfolding in the lead-up to the game, Hapoel’s owner decided to forfeit the match in the so-called Tel Aviv derby between the city’s teams.

“Sports fans are not criminals,” the team said in a statement posted to social media. “Starting in the morning, we began to receive messages from which we understood that Israel Police was treating tonight’s game like a battle in which all fans from the age of eight to 80, women, children, are all potential criminals.”

“In light of the way they treated the fans at the entrance to the hall, we decided there was no point in playing tonight. The sport belongs to the fans!” the statement said.

Culture and Sport Minister Miki Zohar lamented the forfeit, writing on X that it is “nothing less than backing for the continuation of violence.”

“The conduct of the police toward the fans does not happen in a vacuum. Actions are taken due to intelligence that shows real danger to human life. Instead of supporting the upholding of public order, Hapoel Tel Aviv chooses to be afraid of violent fans,” Zohar added.

Hapoel Tel Aviv owner Ofer Yanai responded to Zohar, saying, “I am not afraid of anyone. What cannot be tolerated is a public body that receives payment to maintain order and instead instills fear. Take a look at the video and tell me why a five-year-old boy who comes with his father to see a game should experience something like this?”

Yanai attached a video from Tuesday’s brawls which showed a mounted officer striking a fan in the back with a baton for seemingly no reason.

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