Historic First: Israeli Arab Appointed to Lead Non-Arab Soccer Team in Israel
Retired soccer player Salah Hasarma will become the first Israeli Arab manager of a non-Arab Israeli soccer club, Hapoel Ironi Kiryat Shmona, the U.K.’s Guardian reported on Thursday.
“I’m an Israeli Palestinian or an Arab Israeli who lives here and I feel attached to the state in the same way as other people,” he said. “I do pray five times a day but I stay clear from fanaticism.”
Hasarma, 41, retired from professional soccer two years ago and began working as a youth coach at Hapoel Kiryat Shmona. Soon after embarking on his coaching career Hasarma spoke about the possibility of managing a soccer club, not knowing at the time what the future would hold.
“I took a coaching course and I hope I’ll be the first Arab manager to get a real chance to coach a Jewish Israeli team,” he said at the time, “but I’m realistic and there is more chance I will turn to business.”
Hasarma’s career in soccer spans 25 years. He played for Kiryat Shmona for seven years and was a member of the championship-winning side in 2012, the Guardian reported. In 1996, Hasarma played for the Hapoel Tayibe team that became the first Arab club to play in Israel’s top division. He was also the first Arab player to join a small club from the suburbs of Tel Aviv called Bnei Yehuda, despite initial opposition from the team’s fans.
“Before the first training session at Bnei Yehuda I received threats and was told not to go to the ground because I was going to get hurt or killed,” he told the Israeli newspaper Maariv. “People said that I should not join the team and that an Arab would not set foot at Bnei Yehuda. My parents were worried and my mother said that maybe I shouldn’t go there but I told her that it would be all right.”
After two games the fans apologized and gave him flowers, Hasrama said. They soon began chanting his name and the player says he still has a “warm spot” for Bnei Yehuda fans.
The athlete told Israeli news website Walla that he thinks Arab players have to work harder than their Jewish counterparts to make an impression. He said, “The starting point for an Arab player is harder. In most cases he comes from a place without infrastructure and enjoys them much later.”
In a statement about tackling racism in Israeli soccer, he said it was “unacceptable and we need to deal with it seriously.”
“The police should have people in the stands and arrest anybody who shouts racist remarks, and then it will finish,” he continued. “When we play abroad we see people against us, so how come it happens among us in the country? We need to uproot it.”