Israeli Arab soccer players say they were forced to break Ramadan fast for game

Updated: October 31, 2005, 12:13 PM ET
Associated Press

JERUSALEM -- Israeli Arab players accused the national soccer federation of religious insensitivity for refusing to reschedule a game during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

During Ramadan, observant Muslims refrain from drinking and eating from sunrise to sunset. When the federation slotted a game Saturday for the mixed Arab-Jewish team of Bnei Sakhnin just four minutes after the end of the fast, seven of the Muslim players ate early to be ready.

Before Ramadan, which began in early October, the team asked the federation not to schedule games for an hour after the end of the fast, the club's Jewish coach, Loufa Kadosh, told Israel Army Radio on Monday.

The team's captain, Abbas Suan, a Muslim, said the refusal to reschedule the game was inexcusable.

"I have represented the state and the national team in the most respectful way, but unfortunately the majority continues to ignore us," Suan told the Maariv daily.

Immediately after Saturday's game, Suan and another player drove to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third-holiest shrine, to pray for atonement for breaking the fast.

"I only hope that God will forgive me," Suan said.

The federation's manager, Pini Kainan, said the match had to held at the designated time due to commercial considerations, including TV broadcast times.

"It's impossible to stop the league games for a month," Kainan told Maariv.

Israeli rabbis have been unsuccessful in trying to ban soccer games on Saturdays, the Jewish Sabbath.

Arabs make up almost 20 percent of the population of Israel, a nation of 7 million. They complain that the authorities discriminate against them in funding for their municipalities and schools.

Tensions between Arabs and Jews in Israel often play out on the soccer field, with fans of rival teams chanting ethnic slurs during games. Arab players are sometimes booed by Jewish fans.

Bnei Sakhnin won Israel's State Cup last year, earning it respect among both Jewish and Arab fans. The team has complained of discrimination in the past, noting that it had the lowest budget in its 12-team league.

Qatar last month donated $6 million to build a 13,000-seat stadium for the team.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press

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