The high level of co-operation between England’s and Israel’s football governing bodies has been marked with a special tour of Wembley Stadium by Israeli players and anti-racism campaigners.
A delegation arrived in Britain on Tuesday and met leading officials from the English game to discuss anti-racism work carried out by both countries’ football associations.
Members included Miriam Abu-Ghanem, a 29-year-old who was the first Bedouin player in Be’er Sheva women’s league; Liran Gerasi, director of a project which gives Arab and Jewish children the opportunity to play football together; and former Israel international Abbas Suan.
As well as the Wembley tour the group visited Tottenham Hotspur’s stadium, and met Israeli ambassador to Britain Daniel Taub. They were due to attend Saturday evening’s FA Cup final before returning to Israel.
Their visit came ahead of next month’s Uefa under-21 European Championships which are being held in Israel. During the flagship tournament, leading young England players will mark a decade of joint work between the two countries’ FAs by visiting a local football festival and watching Israeli players take part in skills sessions and matches.
FA chairman David Bernstein said: “The work undertaken in Israel is of huge social benefit to local communities, regardless of religion or beliefs, and the leaders delivering these projects are inspirational. Football should always be a tool for good and it is important that while our under-21 team is in Israel they recognise and support the work going on in the grassroots communities.”
The two governing bodies began working together in 2003, when Israel launched the Kick Racism Out campaign, tackling racism and violence in football.
The project is backed by the New Israel Fund, whose communications director Izik Shanan was a member of the delegation. “This trip has had on the has been phenomenal. We are all taking in so much and learning a lot,” said Mr Shanan. “Women’s football is becoming much more popular in Israel. The more women are involved in matches as players and fans helps to reduce the level of racism and violence.”
Anti-Israel campaigners have repeatedly lobbied Uefa and European governments to demand Israel be stripped of the tournament, but have been rebuffed by Uefa president Michel Platini.