The Israel national soccer team’s timing should be so good on the field.
Pierre Mevy, an Israeli-born soccer entrepreneur who arranges and promotes exhibition matches in Europe between the sport’s top teams, wanted to break into the U.S. market, and he wanted to do it with his homeland’s team.
The available date he found at Citi Field, the Queens home of baseball’s Mets, happened to be Sunday, June 2 — the day of the annual Celebrate Israel parade in Manhattan.
“A total coincidence,” says Mevy, who lives in Geneva, Switzerland.
The 5:30 p.m. match on June 2, between Israel and the Honduran national team, will follow the 11 a.m.-4 p.m. parade (celebrateisraelny.org) along Fifth Avenue, which is a project of the Jewish Community Relations Council.
The local arrangements for the game are being handled by the Get It Done NY relocation organization.
“We were very lucky,” Mevy says about the game’s timing in a telephone interview from Geneva. “It makes [the match] easier to promote.” So does soccer’s growing popularity among American sports fans, he says.
The Israeli roster was not set by this week, said Coach Eli Guttman, but some top Israeli players, including Yossi Benayoun and Tal Ben Haim, who play professionally in England, may appear.
The Israeli team, which has not played in this country for more than three decades, may also include at least one Muslim player, from Israel’s Arab community, Guttman said.
“For me, all players are the same,” regardless of their religious background, Guttman said in a conference call with the Jewish media.
The game (Israel-honduras.com) here will be a good chance to show a non-political side of life in Israel, Mevy says. “It is something good for Israel’s image — people are surprised there are Muslim players on the team. For us, it is normal.” Israeli Arabs have played on the country’s top soccer teams for several years, occasionally arousing controversy among right-wing spectators who would prefer Jewish-only teams. When two Chechen Muslims were signed last year by Beitar Jerusalem, a team that has strong ties to the Israeli right, the team’s trophy room was torched. (See story on racism in soccer and efforts to combat it on page 26.)
Israel’s team is 59th ranked in the world; Honduras’ is 50th. While neither squad is a soccer powerhouse, the match, Mevy says, is a natural draw for New York City’s large Jewish and Hispanic communities. “It makes economic sense.” If the game is a financial success, he says, he may arrange a game for the Israelis later this year in Los Angeles, which also has a large Israeli-expatriate and American Jewish community.
“A lot of people,” Jewish sports fans in New York, “are waiting there for us,” Guttman said. “It’s a big honor for us to represent Israel.”
The game, as any event involving Israel, will have special security, Mevy says, declining to offer details. The Israeli team usually travels with its own security personnel, he says. “No team has the security that Israel has.”
For information about the Israel-Honduras soccer match: http://newyork.mets.mlb.com/nym/ticketing/soccer.jsp or mets.com/soccer.
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