President Isaac Herzog belatedly presented the Beitar Jerusalem soccer team the State Cup at his official residence on Wednesday, a day after a rowdy mob of fans stormed the pitch and disrupted the original ceremony, sparking threats that the club would be stripped of its win.
Thousands of Beitar Jerusalem supporters charged the pitch after the team’s 3-0 win against Maccabi Netanya on Tuesday evening, before the trophy ceremony. Some participants burned the nets in the goals to take pieces as mementos and made off with medals intended for the players, according to Kan radio.
Herzog, who was near the stage where Beitar players were to be given the trophy, was rushed off the field, surrounded by his security detail.
The president expressed dismay in a statement Wednesday, saying that fans “blew up the joyous occasion so that the trophy could not be awarded,” and that the theme of the event would therefore be “condemning and battling violence in sports.”
Speaking later at the ceremony, Herzog noted the trophy was supposed to be awarded the night before “in a much happier manner,” but the “violent dramas” which unfolded prevented it from happening.
“What happened yesterday was a blow to the culture of sport in Israel, but even more, a blow to the honor of the country and Israeli society,” he said. “This is not the first time this year that we have met this violence on our fields, and today it is difficult to dispute that this is an emergency situation.”
He said such scenes could not become the norm, calling on all those involved in Israeli soccer to work to “eradicate this sick evil from the fields.” The president added that sports-linked violence has long been a problem, and “the fact that we have not yet paid in human life is a miracle that should not be trusted.”
Herzog posed for photos with the trophy and the Beitar players, who were joined by the team’s owner Barak Abramov, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, ministers of the ruling Likud party — which has a long history of links to the club — and others.
According to police, 18 people were arrested on various charges related to entering the field.
In the immediate aftermath of the spree, the Israel Football Association hinted that Beitar could be stripped of the title as a disciplinary measure. Herzog’s office said players would be given the trophy at a ceremony at the president’s official residence following a request from the association.
It remained to be seen whether any disciplinary action will be taken against Beitar Jerusalem.
While fans storming a field or court is a common occurrence in the US and some other places, soccer officials in Israel and Europe have shown little tolerance for such celebrations, which are liable to devolve into riots.
Abramov had threatened to sue the IFA if it went through with its threat to not award his club the title.
“The one who put on this event is the Israel Football Association, and it is responsible. This travesty belongs to it and it alone,” he said. “Beitar Jerusalem is not responsible for this … What should Beitar be punished for? Because the organizer doesn’t know how to put on a match?”
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. Last year, then-defense minister Benny Gantz suggested La Familia be labeled a terrorist group after it was involved in violence during the Jerusalem Day flag march.
The State Cup is a knockout tournament played separately from Israel’s tiered leagues and includes teams from across the spectrum of Israeli soccer.