Israeli National Football Team Makes its Debut
Despite lopsided score, Israel’s first international American football game considered successful
Ask any Israeli, and they will tell you that football is nothing new in Israel. By far the most popular sport in the country, the Israel Football Association is over 80 years old and currently runs five levels and 15 different divisions of the Israeli football league system. The national team has even competed in the Olympics twice, in 1968 and 1976.
Of course, this type of football is more commonly known in North America as soccer.
But on Thursday, the Israeli American football team made its international debut in Petah Tikvah against the Maranatha Baptist Bible College Crusaders, an NCAA Division III team from Watertown, Wis.
Israel lost 49-6 in front of a crowd approximately 500 people, according to the Associated Press.
Spectators said they were excited to see the team play, albeit on a field marked over a baseball diamond.
“I wouldn't have heard of the sport were it not for my son,” said Smadar Yeshurun, whose son Shahar plays linebacker.
Five years ago, the Israel Football League, a local 10-team amateur league was launched and continues to generate excitement.
New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft reportedly donates $70,000 each year to help support the league. A field in Jerusalem, where many games take place, is named after Kraft.
The league’s commissioner Uriel Sturm, who is originally from Toronto, said that 1,000 fans attended last year’s Israel Bowl, which was broadcast live on an Israeli sports channel.
“The tailgating, the cheerleading, that whole rah-rah atmosphere is very much a part of football culture,” said Sturm. “We're hopefully building towards that.”
Teams in the local league typically field eight players at a time on a 60-yard field, but in Thursday’s international game, the teams played 11 versus 11 on a 100-yard field.
Translations of the words, “down,” “yard” and “touchdown” do not yet exist in Hebrew, but Maranatha captain Robert O’Brien said that he could see American football fitting in Israel.
“These people are all about contact, they are all about aggressiveness,” said O’Brien. “Football fits right into their culture.”