New Israel Fund's KIO Israel campaign, in partnership with the Israel FA, concluded its FARE Action Week activities on Saturday with a unique “Hyde Park” event before the Premier League game between Maccabi Netanya and Hapoel Haifa. KIO Israel set up a speaking area near Netanya's stadium modelled on Speakers Corner at London's Hyde Park. Fans including local celebrities were invited to make brief speeches condemning racism and violence in football.
The event was organized together with Israel Police, the Israeli government's Sports Authority and Israfans, an umbrella organizations for fans clubs of 25 Israeli teams. Israel Police had major reservations about the event and feared it might become a focus for conflict between opposing fans and all speakers were required to sign an agreement about the content of their speeches. The event, far from fuelling conflict, actually brought the fans of both teams together in a show of solidarity against violence and racism.
The 75 minutes of speeches were listened to by hundreds of passing fans and were started by Maccabi Netanya chairman Gil Lev who said he was committed to make every effort to combat racism and added ,
I believe we can do things differently if you older fans set an example against racism and violence.
Yardena Shaarabi, 68, touched everybody's feelings when she spoke about her son Yoni, a lifelong Netanya fan who was killed in the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
I am wearing the scarf and Maccabi shirt that Yoni wore to every game. He was a devoted fan but adamantly oppposed violence in the stands and always encouraged only fair play.
She added, telling an audience of hundreds,
I call on you all to realize Yoni's dream and work for football which is clean, fair and free of racism and violence.