Pitch invasion at cup final earns Beitar Jerusalem 1-year ban from European soccer

Runner-up Maccabi Netanya may get spot in UEFA tourney instead, as Israel Football Association punishes club following chaos when it won the State Cup

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 not be allowed to play matches in European competition as punishment for its fans storming the field following a cup final win last month, the Israel Football Association said Monday.

The decision by a tribunal convened by Israeli soccer’s governing body means the club will be barred from the UEFA Europa Conference League, a contest of national league high-flyers and cup winners from across Europe.

As a result, Maccabi Netanya, which lost the cup final match that sent Beitar fans streaming onto the field on May 23, may be sent instead.

Israeli teams play in Europe due to difficulties with scheduling matches against teams from countries in the Mideast and Asia that are opposed to normalizing with the Jewish state.

Beitar Jerusalem was also ordered to pay a NIS 70,000 ($18,720) fine.

The club could also be banned from the State Cup and three points could be deducted in league play if the fan chaos recurs.

Following Beitar’s 3-0 win against Netanya at Haifa’s Sammy Ofer stadium, supporters of the Jerusalem team known for its hardcore fan base rushed the pitch in celebration. People 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. 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 considered stripping the team of its title, drawing a lawsuit threat from the team. In the end, the panel left the cup with Beitar, but said it “couldn’t find any good reasons to allow it to also enjoy the fruits and economic rights that come with it.”

“The State Cup final game is supposed to be a game of honorable status, and serve as a celebration of the end of the season in the presence of two crowds of fans who filled the stands, in front of many dignitaries,” the tribunal said in its verdict on Monday. “In practice, this day became a shameful and humiliating event, the likes of which Israeli football has never known in a situation like this.”

President Isaac Herzog (center) is surrounded by security on the field as fans of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club rushed the field after their team won the State Cup finals in Haifa, May 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Alain Schieber)

Beitar, founded in 1936, is arguably the most popular soccer club in Israel and undoubtedly its most controversial, 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. Two Muslim Chechen players it signed a decade ago were hounded out of the club.

Last year, defense minister Benny Gantz suggested La Familia be labeled a terrorist group after it was involved in violence during the Jerusalem Day flag march.

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