New deal will allow Israeli soccer games on Sabbath

Players will be able to opt out of matches if they prefer not to play on holy day

Illustrative photo of Israeli soccer fans (Flash 90)
Illustrative photo of Israeli soccer fans (Flash 90)

Israeli officials have reached an agreement that would allow soccer to continue to be played on the weekly Shabbat holy day, but which would let players opt out if they choose.

Controversy erupted over the issue after a court ruled in August that matches on Shabbat were illegal in the Jewish state.

The ruling was in response to players who objected to participating in games between sunset on Fridays and nightfall on Saturdays due to their religious convictions.

The row had threatened to end the practice of holding some Premier League games on the Sabbath, attended by or watched on television by tens of thousands.

After months of debate, during which matches continued, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev said Tuesday that a draft agreement between clubs, owners and the soccer federation had been reached.

Israel's national soccer team during practice, March 2009 (photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Israel’s national soccer team during practice, March 2009 (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

The agreement must be approved by the courts and will be submitted this month.

“We are going to provide a long-term solution that will allow us to maintain the status quo without compromising players’ rights,” she said. “In short, the number of matches played on Shabbat will be reduced to the necessary minimum.”

The deal would allow players to sit out Shabbat games if they choose to do so.

Much of Israel shuts down due to the weekly holy day.

Jewish establishments that wish to be open on Saturdays need special permits. Entertainment venues and restaurants can work, while businesses and public transportation are prohibited.

Disputes over which activities are allowed on Shabbat occur regularly, particularly with ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and religious nationalists wielding significant influence in the government.

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