Jackie Robinson & Beitar Jerusalem

Jackie Robinson, broke baseball's color barrier

Yesterday’s Beitar Jerusalem press conference was quite the happening as the two new signings, Muslims from Chechnya, Zaur Sadayev & Dzhabrail Kadiyev were introduced to the media. It looked as if they were absolutely shell shocked as cameras and microphones were stuffed into their faces from all angles.

Joining them on the dais was Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, Team Chairman Yitzik Korenfine, coach Eli Cohen, captain Amit Ben-Shushan and ‘keeper Ariel Harush. Also present was a rep from the Beitar Non-profit Amuta, assistant coaches & interpreters! Let me tell you, it was quite the scene.

Beitar Jerusalem Press Conference-Courtesy Beitar Jerusalem

Not only were the sports media present but the national news channels and other outlets were there as well to cover this ever growing story.

All of those who spoke kept sending home the message that racism will not be tolerated anymore at Beitar Jerusalem and that these players were like everyone else. Jerusalem, the eternal capital of the Jewish People is an open and free city to everyone of all faiths and a team like Beitar is no different.

I could not agree more!

Can I dare say, as big as Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers? It is Robsinson’s birthday today, born on January 31, 1919, it is a great day for those fighting against racism which sadly still exists today.

The new players spoke very softly in their mother tongue and said the right things. They were happy to be here, part of the team, looking forward to playing football and getting to know the city & the country.
Sadayev, the older of the pair but still only 23 years old, will be looked at to help out with scoring as he is the club’s only true striker. Kadiyev at 19 years plays at the back and looks to help out the defense corps.

Zaur Sadayev (right) & Dzhabrail Kadiyev in their Beitar best!

Fast forward to this morning where they took part in their 1st practice in Beitar kits at the teams’ Bayit Vegan facility. Before hitting the pitch they each signed their contracts which will pay them 47,000 NIS a month. The practice unfortunately welcomed 20 so called fans who came to boo, and curse at the club & their new charges.

The police arrested one of them for wearing a shirt that said “Death to Mohamed” and others were shooed away by the men & women in blue who came to restore some sense of order.

At the end of practice 3 fans came with flowers welcoming the new players which was appreciated and was captured by the media that were in attendance.

The more I look at these signings I see a few things, for the good and the bad:
The Good:

1) Having Muslims at Beitar is a move that needed to be done years ago. Just like Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers it took some teams longer to sign their first African American ballplayer. Muslims have long played for other clubs in Israel, but only a small handful up to now have played at Beitar, most recently in 2004. This will hopefully open up the doors for others to join and will teach those who disagree with Beitar’s actions that everyone no matter who should be accepted as a footballer and not by his faith or color of his skin.

2) The player’s potential to help Beitar as they are near the top of the table is of great importance for a number of reasons. The higher they finish the more money that will come into their coffers. Playing in the upper playoff after the 2nd round will mean more attractive opponents for the 3rd round and more fans will come out for those games as they will be critical.

3) Beitar needed a striker, hopefully Mr. Sadayev will be able to find the net on a frequent basis and take a bit of pressure off of the other players. Kadiyev may be a work in progress in the back line, but looks to have height and good build to be developed into a decent player.

The Bad:

1) No one really knows how good these players are. Sadayev barely played this season and Kadiyev has only played on the youth squad, their experience is in question and if they do not produce the boo birds will have more ammunition.

2) Will the controversy around the new players backfire and put too much pressure on not only the new players but the team as a whole where we see everything crumble and Beitar drops down to the lower playoff.

3) Will the salaries be a turn off to some of their new teammates who are earning much less per month, and who have been brought up in Beitar’s youth system. I spoke to my barber whose nephew is one of those players that there are already rumblings from some of the younger players about Sadayev & Kadiyev’s purse.

4) I along with many others believe that there is something else going on with owner Arkady signing these players from Chechnya. Gaydamak has lots of connections and deep ones in the Former Soviet Union and plenty of business dealings including arms amongst many of these breakaway countries. Is there something more sinister behind these signings that unfortunately doesn’t relate to football? I surely hope not, but sometimes when there is smoke, there is fire.

The hope that everything goes off from here without problems is probably just that, hope. Sunday night Beitar plays an away game at Ramat Hasharon and then plays Bnei Sakhnin at home the following week. It will be quite interesting to see which fans show up this Sunday, the fans that will cheer or the fans that will boo?

The following Sunday will be an even bigger test when Beitar hosts Bnei Sakhnin, the Arab-Israeli club as the east stand will be closed, more fans will be present and potentially more issues at hand.

But I think we also have to give this some time. Just like Jackie Robinson wasn’t accepted right away by players on other teams, fans and media, Beitar will experience growing pains with Sadayev & Kadiyev.

As long as we all look at Jackie Robinson for inspiration, I believe we’ll all turn out OK.

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