Barnes kicks off anti-racism campaign in Sakhnin
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(photo credit: Flash 90)
Bnei Sakhnin and Betar Jerusalem players will stand together wearing anti-racism t-shirts.
The players of Bnei Sakhnin and Betar Jerusalem will stand together wearing t-shirts bearing anti-racism slogans before their Premier League match next week as part of the "Kick Racism out of Israeli Football" campaign, it was announced at Monday's launch. A delegation from the English Football Association, which included England legend John Barnes, met with their Israel Football Association counterparts in Tel Aviv on Monday morning to discuss methods of tackling racism in Israeli soccer. The new campaign, instigated by the New Israel Fund, follows a similar successful scheme that has been running for more than 10 years in the UK. Simon Johnson, director of corporate affairs at the English FA, admitted that the problems of racism against black players in British soccer stadiums is not directly comparable to the problem of anti-Arab chanting in Israel. But he said he hoped the IFA can learn from the methods used by the English FA. "When you take high profile role models such as players and the fans see them speaking out against racism it can make a huge difference," Johnson said. Describing how he suffered massive racial abuse during his playing days with Watford and Liverpool, Barnes added, "As a player, I wrestled with my conscience about getting involved. But I realized how powerful a political tool football is." The match between Betar and Sakhnin will be played at Doha Stadium in Sakhnin, the site of the now infamous set of violent confrontations involving the two sets of fans and police following a match last month. Spectators and officers were injured after Sakhnin supporters threw stones at Betar fans, who were then allowed onto the field, which was followed by fisticuffs. Bnei Sakhnin captain Abas Suan, who is often the subject of abuse from the Jerusalem supporters, said he is excited by the plans and the campaign. "There is no problem between the players, just between the fans," Suan said. "It is important to involve the players because they can change a lot." Former Hapoel Tel Aviv goalkeeper Arieh Alter, now the general manager of the Israeli players association, came up with the idea of the t-shirts. "I think this is the first step, but it is very important," Alter said at Doha Stadium on Monday. "When the fans on both sides see that everyone is together, it will show that the game is not a war. Everyone should come to enjoy the show in a friendly atmosphere." The delegation, which arrived in Israel on Sunday, will continue its mission in Jerusalem on Tuesday with meetings with President Moshe Katsav and a number of MKs.