Beitar fans have ‘no problem’ with player called Mohamed after discovering he is Christian

Extremist fans at Beitar Jerusalem FC, which has never signed an Arab player, proposed changing the new signing's name


An Israeli club that has never signed an Arab footballer was decried by extremist fans after agreeing terms with midfielder Ali Mohamed — until it emerged the new recruit was a devout Christian.

Beitar Jerusalem will pay $2.5 million (£1.9 million) for the 23-year-old Niger international, who currently plays for fellow Israeli Premier League side Maccabi Netanya.

The signing appeared like a radical departure for Beitar, which has never signed an Arab player and has seen its few Muslim players, like the Chechens Zaur Sadayev and Djebrail Kadiyev in 2013, booed and hounded out of the club within a few months.

Despite his name, Mr Mohamed is a devout Christian.

That has not prevented Beitar’s owner Moshe Hogeg from receiving threats, while the extremist racist fan group La Famila posted on social media: “After extensive investigations into the player’s identity, we can announce that we have no problem with Ali but we do have a problem with his name and we will change his name so that the chant Mohamed will not be heard at Teddy Stadium.”

But Mr Hogeg, a high-tech billionaire, said defiantly: “Nobody is going to be forced to change their name. Ali Mohamed will play for Beitar and he will be a major addition to the team and we will frequently hear Mohamed’s name chanted in the stands because of his performances on the pitch.”

He added: “When I contacted Maccabi Netanya about Mohamed, I didn’t know what his religion was and it didn’t interest me. Even if he were a Muslim, he would have come to the club.”

Following Mr Hogeg’s resolute comments, La Familia erased its post about not chanting Mohamed’s name.

The Beitar owner’s determined stand against racism has also been reflected in a dramatic reduction in racist chanting at Beitar’s Teddy Stadium.

Once the Beitar fans were known for notoriously racist chants like “Death to Arabs”, but anti-racism observers said there were only two incidents of racist chanting during the 2018/19 season.

This is down from 18 incidents in the previous season, and 50 cases two years ago. The worst racist chanting comes from other teams’ fans who taunt Beitar with: “Beitar’s fans are Arabs.”

Mr Hogeg bought Beitar last summer and made it clear from the outset that he intended to stamp out racism.

He describes this as his proudest achievement over the past year, a season that saw Beitar, usually in the top half of the table, struggle against relegation.

Mr Mohamed, whose superb performances helped Maccabi Netanya finish fourth in the league, has been brought in to remedy the poor form.

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