The planning of the much anticipated England vs Israel football match, due to take place in September next year, has caused concern amongst local Jews because it will be played on Shabbat.
The match is one of a series of games to be played to decide which national teams progress to the finals tournament of the European Championships in Austria and Switzerland in 2008.
Israel will face Croatia, Andorra, Estonia, Macedonia and Russia, both in Israel as well as in those countries, over 13 months between September this year and November 2007.
At home, Israel's international matches are always played after the end of Shabbat to allow religious Jews to attend or watch the game on television. But it is the decision of the local football association as to what time the away games will be played.
It emerged last week that, although the Maccabi Jewish sports association had campaigned for Israel’s game in England to be played either on a weekday or after night fall, they had been unsuccessful.
English football association campaigns director Simon Johnson told the London-based Jewish News newspaper that the timing had been “set in stone”, disappointing many English Jewish football fans.
Johnson stressed that the Association had taken the views of the local Jewish community into consideration, but as the game had been scheduled for a Saturday the police would not allow it to be held in the evening.
The days of the games were set in a meeting between representatives of all seven nations in Israel’s group two weeks ago.
According the regulations of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, the games must be played on specific dates, to avoid clashes with other international and important club matches. Although some of these dates are Wednesdays, most are Saturdays.
Maccabi Major Events and Communications Manager Dan Levy said he was disappointed with the outcome of the scheduling meeting, but still planned to lobby the Football Association on the issue over the coming months.
“We are very disappointed about the two games clashing with Shabbat as it limits the involvement we can have with the games,” Levy said. “However, we do understand the difficulties the Association would have add in trying to sort out all the fixtures with the other countries too.
“At the same time we don’t want to discount anything at this stage and will hopefully be in talks with the Football Association at some point.”
Out of Israel’s six away games in the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, three others will be played on Saturdays – those in Russia, Macedonia and Estonia, although the timing of these games has yet to be decided.
Reprinted with permission from European Jewish Press