It’s been an interesting couple of months for gay athletes all around the world – between Jason Collins (first gay player in the NBA), Michael Sam (NFL draft prospect publicly coming out), Thomas Hitzlsperger and the Winter Olympics in Sochi – 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the rainbow.
And last week in Tel-Aviv, the non-profit organization “Football State”, which also serves as the Israeli mini-football association, put together the first ever tournament for Israeli LGBT players.
Some 40 amateur football players signed up for the historic event, which enjoyed the support of “FvH” (Football v. Homophobia), a European organization backed by “FARE” (Football against Racism in Europe). In England, all the top BPL clubs – including Chelsea, Arsenal and both Manchester teams – have recently signed agreements with the FvH to help promote their struggle against homophobia in football.
“The First Football State Tournament of Pride” generated quite a lot of press in Israel – the main sports TV channel, top rated radio programme and several websites all ran features leading up to the event. Media coverage was universally positive and achieved one of the main goals of the project: to get the message across – that there is no place in football for homophobia, racism or intolerance of any kind.
All the players participating on the night were part of “Rainball Tel-Aviv”, Israel’s first and only gay football club. For the tournament, 40 players were divided into four teams (“La Familia” in red, ”The Smurfs” in blue, “The Panthers” in black and “Rainball Ice” in white). It was a friendly tournament played according to Football State rules – no violence and no referees: everyone is responsible for their own behavior. In the end it was the boys in red, “La Famila”, who won the historic title.
“We started with a few guys who like to play football, who also happen to be gay. And that has evolved into something much bigger. Today we are a community of nearly 80 players,” said Shai Zalait, a player from the winning team. “We have 10-15 straight guys playing with us who feel very comfortable. The atmosphere is always very relaxed and funny. We also have new immigrants from Argentina and Portugal”.
“For our players and staff, this was an opportunity to meet, work and play alongside a new group of people, and transform a stereotype into an actual person that you can play football with and it’s cool” – says Football State press officer Jonathan Gal. “And for the general public – the message of accepting and respecting LGBT athletes was deeply present in all the media coverage we had”.
Gal added – “But probably the best part was when one of our (straight) players contacted us and volunteered to help organize a full-time league for our LGBT players because he was so impressed with the event”.
Photos courtesy of www.football-state.com