Last Updated: Mon Nov 01, 2010 19:24 pm (KSA) 16:24 pm (GMT)

No Arab boycott over Chelsea's Israeli player

Tal Ben Haim moved to Chelsea in July (File)
Tal Ben Haim moved to Chelsea in July (File)

Major Arab media will not boycott Chelsea games after Israeli defender Tal Ben Haim moved from Bolton to London giants Chelsea, according to local sports reporters, adding the new acquisition should not affect the Blues' popularity in the Middle East.

Traditionally, Arab public and private news organizations did not broadcast sports events that involved Israeli teams. When covering major international competitions, such as the Olympic Games, Arab media did not air games with Israeli players or teams.

"Boycotting sport does not make sense anymore," said Talal Al Hamoud, sports editor with "We should not involve politics in sport and keep forsaking sport events that Israel participates in."

The Saudi journalist also slammed the "conservative" Arab perspective towards sport.

"Although I agree with boycotting the local Israeli sport events, depriving Arab football fans from seeing the whole picture is too old-fashioned a reaction," he said.

Israeli player Ben Haim, who started his career with Maccabi Tel Aviv in 1998, moved to Chelsea in July seeking trophies, according to British newspaper, The Jewish Telegraph.

Hamoud said Arab Chelsea fans would likely not support Ben Haim’s move to Stamford Bridge, "but this does not mean that they will leave their beloved club,” he added.

“Football has become a global trade, where all the sides forget about nationality, skin color, religion and all ethnic backgrounds. Arabs should understand this new mentality and try to live with it,” he added.

Yazid Benani, Head of MBC Sports, a pan-Arab broadcaster and sister company to Al Arabiya, also said Arab media will not change the way they cover Chelsea.

"They will avoid any anti-Semitic accusations, but Arab media will not praise Ben Haim either."

Mourinho-Abramovich Spat

Sports analysts say Ben Haim’s move to Chelsea is another chapter in Roman Abramovich’s chain of interventions in Coach Jose Mourinho’s work.

After signing the un-wanted Michael Ballack and Andre Shevchenko during the 2006-2007 summer transfer campaign, football experts believe that the Israeli international's move could spark another row between the Portuguese tactician and the Russian multi-millionaire club owner.

Abramovich is known for supporting Israel morally and financially.

According to football observers, landing Ben Haim at Stamford Bridge is an effort to support the Israeli national team and give Israeli players the experience they need to perform at an international level.

Sports executive Benani says the coach should make the final decision, but believes this is not realistic.

“In today’s football, club owners are interfering in coaches’ jobs because they are paying the checks at the end of the month,” he said.

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