JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Premier League side Beitar Jerusalem unveiled two Chechen Muslim players on Wednesday in defiance of calls by some of their fans who have protested against the club’s recruitment of Muslims.
A racist element among Beitar’s fans caused uproar in the Jewish state on Saturday when they held up banners during a Premier League match to protest at owner Arkady Gaydamak’s plans to hire the two players.
Zaur Sadayev and Dzhabrail Kadiyev of Russian premier league side Terek Grozny were introduced at a news conference but barely spoke. They are due to train for the first time on Thursday.
“I know that there will be a difficult start, but I believe that this club is setting out on a new path and will change its image,” coach Eli Cohen said.
Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, who participated in the news conference said that “violence and racism would not be tolerated”.
One large banner on Saturday read “Beitar will always remain pure” and another sign criticised Gaydamak’s plan to recruit the two players.
The club were disciplined on Tuesday because of the incident and were ordered to close the Teddy Kollek Stadium’s 7,000-seat eastern grandstand, where hard core supporters sit, for five matches. They also received a 50,000 shekels ($13,400) fine.
The Israel Football Association (IFA) court said the punishment was relatively mild because Beitar had begun to make an effort to stamp out racist behaviour among its fans.
Beitar are a bastion of Israel’s political right wing and the only leading team in the country never to have signed an Arab player because of fan pressure.
They have the worst disciplinary record in Israel’s Premier League. Since 2005, Beitar have faced more than 20 hearings and have received various punishments, including points deductions, fines and matches behind closed doors.
Arab citizens make up some 20 percent of Israel’s population of almost eight million. Arab players feature prominently at all other clubs and have long been included in Israel’s national team.
Editing by John Mehaffey