Shalom Life | April 09, 2014

Israelis, Americans Look to Create Israeli National Football Team

Leaders from Israel’s American Football community gathered with American businessmen, including Patriots owner Robert Kraft, to discuss

By: Graham Sigurdson

Published: February 3rd, 2014 in Sports » Israel

On Sunday, leaders from Israel’s American Football community traveled to New York to raise support for an Israeli national football team. The group sought to raise $400,000 to fund training facilities and the hiring of new coaches.

Talking to The Algemeiner, Steve Leibowitz, Preisedent of American Football in Israel said “We decided to do it at this time because of the Super Bowl, because we thought there would be a great buzz about football, and we wanted to interest American Jews.”

“It will take two years to prepare our team for its first international match,” he added. “First, we will be competing against European sides and then we hope to advance.”

The team has managed to attract some big names so far, including New England Patriots owner, Robert Kraft. Kraft is a longtime supporter of football in Israel, having paid for the construction of a Jerusalem stadium - Kraft Stadium.

At a gathering in his office on Friday morning, hedge fund billionaire Henry Swieca is also involved, urging attendees to get behind the project. In addition to Kraft, other Jewish team owners have expressed interest, but according to Leibowitz, are not yet ready to publicize their involvement.

American Football in Israel first began in 1989 when Leibowitz created a touch football league in Jerusalem. Beginning with 8 teams, there are now five leagues in both flag and tackle football leagues, including both a women’s and high school leagues. American Football in Israel has been recognized as the country’s official football administration by the Ministry of Culture and Sport. The group now hosts the annual Israel Bowl.

In regards to flag football, Israel is quite advanced. Their women’s team is ranked sixth worldwide, with the men’s team ranking fifth. “We have been competing in international competition on a world and a European level for about a dozen years,” said Leibowitz. The country will host the Senior World Championships for flag football in Jerusalem later this year, which Leibowitz has said will be “the biggest international championship ever held in Israel in any sport.”

According to Leibowitz, teams from 20 different countries will participate in the event, running August 13th -15th.

The rising level of popularity of football in Israel led Leibowitz to decide that the country was ready for the next level. “Now we feel have players that have been playing the game for a number of years,” he said. The decision to field the international team was made a year ago.

For more on Israelis and sports, check out our profile on Israel's five competing athletes in the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

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