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Israeli initiative receives FA backing

An event in Netanya on Sunday showcased the positive steps being taken by the Israel FA, with support from their English counterparts, to encourage social responsibility through football.

"It is not only goals and results that count, but also victories off the field," declared Avraham Luzon, president of the Israel Football Association (IFA), at the start of a special event in Netanya on Sunday showcasing the positive steps being taken by the IFA, with the help of the English Football Association (FA) and the New Israel Fund (NIF), to foster and encourage social responsibility and tolerance through football.

It is ten years now since the IFA, with the FA's support, launched a Kick Racism Out (KRO) campaign in Israeli football and to mark the anniversary, Mr Luzon and the FA chairman, David Bernstein, were both present to witness at first hand some outstanding community initiatives active across the country and bringing together Arabs and Jews and members of minority communities.

Mr Luzon said: "As part of the fruitful co-operation between the Israeli association and our English colleagues, we are hosting a joint activity under the banner 'Football For All', which promotes important social values through football and makes it accessible to all. Today we are gathered here to unveil the wonderful projects that have been initiated under this title, with the aim of bringing the news of football to one and all."

On the Maccabi Netanya FC training pitch that England's footballers have used as their base at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship, youngsters from a cluster of programmes enjoyed the opportunity to play football with players from the England and Israel national teams.

These programmes operate with the support of Football For All, a joint-venture in which the NIF plays a prominent role. This is a philanthropic partnership committed to democratic change within Israel which in 2006 launched the Let's Kick Racism Out of Israeli Football campaign.

For the two years leading up to this tournament, UEFA has lent its support with an annual donation of €30,000.

Rachel Liel, chief executive of the NIF, said in her welcome speech: "I think you've seen here what football can do, how it can include everybody – women, families, people of disabilities, minorities, migrants. Those are the values that the New Israel Fund are trying to promote."

Her words were echoed by Izik Shanan, the NIF's director of communications and public education, who added: "We want to show this is how society should look like – Jews and Arabs, Bedouins, newcomers from Ethiopia and other parts should be equally treated, have equal opportunity to play football and to come out in Israeli society. This day is a showcase of how football should look like and how our society should look like."

The full breakdown of those involved underlined just how far Football For All's tentacles have reached:

• Boys from the Neighbourhood League, in which Jews and Arabs play together

• Hapoel Ra'anana FC girls teams

• Bedouin children from Tel Sheva, led by Miriam Abu-Ghanem, their female sports teacher

• Ethiopian-Israeli children from the Hapoel Beer Sheva football projects

• Youth teams from Bnei Sakhin led by the Arab ex-Israeli international Abbas Suan

• Value Sports, which promotes education and anti-racism

• 'Green Card' fair play scheme

Representatives of the Football For All programmes had made an FA-sponsored visit to London last month and Mr Bernstein was delighted to make a return visit and get a glimpse of their work for himself. "What we are seeing today is for the long term," he said. "We know that football is a unique powerful good in the world, a lot of great things come out of football. I was so impressed when your seven leaders came to England in May to hear the work being done, it is fabulous to see it in practice today.

"The focus on social progress and the values of tolerance and shared positive values are so important and everything we've seen today represents that. I'd like to congratulate the IFA and the New Israel fund for everything that they're doing."

One small example of the progress made over the past decade is the fact that in the 2010/11 season alone, the IFA, NIF and Let's Kick Racism Out of Israel (KIO Israel) campaign reported a 39% fall in incidents of racism, incitement and violence.

Ori Shilo, CEO of the Israel Football Association, explained: "Violence-wise in the stadiums we saw a massive reduction. Most of the phenomena we were familiar with these last years are disappearing from the stadiums."