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Israeli football strike averted, play on Jewish Sabbath to go ahead

Matches on Saturday came under threat after a court ruling on a petition by religiously observant players against taking to the field during the Sabbath.


Their refusal to participate in some matches that in previous years have been held on weekdays, led an Israeli labour court to rule that without a special waiver that allows companies to employ workers on the Sabbath, which runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, Saturday football is illegal.

But Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein said he saw no reason to suddenly enforce a law that had been ignored for decades and that nobody would be prosecuted. Following that, the Israel Football Association said all matches would go ahead as planned.

Football matches have operated for decades without a waiver, as part of a so-called “status quo”. The arrangement between Israel’s secular Jewish majority and religiously observant minority governs which businesses, public transport and places of entertainment can open on Saturdays.

As a result of the court decision, Israeli Economy Minister Arye Deri, an ultra-Orthodox Jew, had to decide whether to issue a football waiver.

To do so would violate his own religious beliefs, but with football being the most popular sport in Israel, he ran the risk of angering many Israelis by cancelling matches on Saturday, their only day off work.

Income from business surrounding football — support staff, broadcasting, transportation, policing, stewarding and refreshments — would all also have been hit.

Some of the professional matches in Israel’s two top leagues are held on Saturdays but hundreds of others involving non-professional teams are also played on the Sabbath.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, an avid football fan, said on Wednesday that the Saturday games should go on.

“I think that the custom for the public in Israel is that on Saturday you go to synagogue and afterward you go to the (football stadium),” he said on Army Radio. “This is the status quo.”

Sports Minister Miri Regev praised Weinstein’s decision and said a committee would seek a solution that would accommodate players who did not want to play on the Sabbath.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Angus MacSwan)

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