Wading into row, sports minister says politics won’t determine next soccer coach

Chili Tropper responds after transportation minister tells former soccer star Eyal Berkovic he’ll never get the job because he referred to Likud as a ‘criminal organization’

Eyal Berkovic, left, during an interview with Transportation Minister Miri Regev, right, October 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)
Eyal Berkovic, left, during an interview with Transportation Minister Miri Regev, right, October 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper said Saturday that politics won’t factor into the selection of the next coach of the national soccer team, after Transportation Minister Miri Regev told talk show host and former soccer star Eyal Berkovic that he would never get the job because he called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party a “criminal organization.”

“We’ll conduct ourselves in a statesman-like and a topical way. Politics and the politicians will remain on the side. A specific political view doesn’t need to be related to the position of coach,” said Tropper, a member of the Blue and White party.

“I suggest everyone refrain from making any statement that attempts to interfere in the process of selecting a professional position in the field of sports,” said Tropper.

On Sunday morning Regev denied that her comments were a threat, but said Berkovic did not deserve to be national coach.

Blue and White MK Chili Tropper at the Knesset on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“I’m not threatening. Such a person does not deserve to be the national coach, all the barriers and boundaries have been breached here. If it was a right-wing journalist doing this to someone on the left, they would have already been crucified,” she told the Kan public broadcaster.

Regev, a Likud ally of Netanyahu’s, previously held the role of culture and sports minister.

On Friday she told Berkovic that he will “never be the coach of Israel’s national team” if he does not apologize to her Likud party for calling it a “criminal organization,” during a discussion about the coronavirus pandemic on a Channel 12 talk show.

Regev’s defense of the government’s virus response quickly became heated, including her support of Likud Minister Gila Gamliel and the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who are both accused of breaching lockdown restrictions.

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, left, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, August 30, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After Berkovic said “the people are suffering” due to the coronavirus pandemic and its economic fallout, the conversation devolved into a shout-fest centered on the “criminal organization” comments Berkovic made to Likud MK Miki Zohar last week.

Regev shouted at Berkovic, “For as long as you don’t apologize to the Likud members, you will never be the coach of Israel’s national team.”

She demanded Berkovic apologize to “the one and a half million Likud members who you called ‘members of a criminal organization.’”

Berkovic told Regev he had been referring in his comments to “only you, and your whole crew.”

“You and your crew. It’s not connected at all to the voters,” he said.

Referring to Netanyahu by his nickname, he said he had been speaking about “Bibi, and around five of his foot soldiers.” The prime minister is currently on trial over corruption charges.

Ofira Assayag, left, and Eyal Berkovic, right, during an interview with Transportation Minister Miri Regev, October 9, 2020. (Screenshot/Channel 12)

Regev continued her verbal broadside, saying, “Shame on you. I wish you could get to have even a quarter of our morality. We’re proud of who’s running this country and that is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.”

She accused Berkovic of playing up political favorites.

“You’re always crowning new kings. Flipping them over like a steak. One time it was [former finance minister Moshe] Kahlon, another time [Blue and White party chief Benny] Gantz. You turned Gantz into a messiah. Where is your messiah now?” she said.

Regev recorded a video as she was traveling in a car home from the interview and uploaded it to her Facebook page.

“I’m on my way home after a very difficult interview with ‘Ofira and Berkovic.’ Now is not the time to abandon the field, but to answer them. It cannot be that they call one and a half million Likudniks ‘members of a criminal group.’”

“The time has come to put it all on the table, to answer them and not be afraid. So raise up your voices, because they cannot turn us into a punching bag. I really hope they don’t edit that interview, and will broadcast it as-is to the Israeli public,” she said.

יצאתי עכשיו מאופירה וברקו. עדכון מיוחד>>>>

פורסם על ידי ‏Miri Regev מירי רגב‏ ב- יום שישי, 9 באוקטובר 2020

The statement has been viewed well over 500,000 times and generated tens of thousands of reactions.

Berkovic is one of Israel’s most legendary soccer players. He appeared in 79 games for the Israeli national team in the 1990s and 2000s, and played for a string of Premiership clubs over a career in Britain spanning a decade.

Israeli soccer player Eyal Berkovic (R), 1986 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)

He previously coached the Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club and owned the Hapoel Rishon Lezion club.

Following Regev’s comments, Berkovic told Sport One that he hopes to be the next coach of the national team. The current coach, Willibald Ruttensteiner, is set to step down in December.

A senior member of the national soccer association told the Kan public broadcaster that Berkovic is a candidate for the role if Ruttensteiner doesn’t stay on.

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