Opinion: Spurs plan that the men’s team play Roma in Israel should be reversed

In this blog Rachel argues that Spurs organising an international friendly for our men’s team in Israel puts the club on the wrong side of history and has implications for the whole club, including Spurs Women.

Today’s announcement by Spurs that the men’s team will play Roma in Israel during the off-season has polarised fans, with strong opposition and support for this decision. Among those supporting the decision has been a widespread refrain that real Spurs fans should not complain: As one twitter user put it: ‘Don’t support Spurs if you are against Israel.’ Or, as another stated in response to a fan critical of Israel: ‘Do you know what club you support?’

This makes me sad. I love Spurs and am proud of the way that our fans, Jewish or not, have historically challenged the anti-Semitism of opponents (Chelsea gas chamber hissing; Arsenal or West Ham chants). It is truly inspiring that we have collectively re-claimed anti-Semitic hatred and turned it into a strength. Even the use of the Y-word (as in ‘Y-word Army’) when sung by home supporters, most of whom do not identify as Jewish, can be argued to be empowering.

Yet, appreciation of my club’s Jewish links stop well short of supporting its choice to play this game. If it were part of a UEFA competition in which Spurs had been drawn against an Israeli team, as happened in 2007 when they played Hapoel Tel Aviv, it would be different. While I still might query a colonial geography that places Israel in Europe and part of UEFA I would understand that Spurs choice was between playing the game and forfeiting European football. This is different. Spurs are going to Israel to play Roma. Roma? If this game isn’t going to be in Rome or London it could be played anywhere. Yet Spurs have decided that it makes sense (perhaps for marketing reasons) to play it in Israel.

Israel is a State that has recently been branded as ‘Apartheid’ by Amnesty and which has been repeatedly criticised by the UN for its human rights violations. Palestinians in Israel and Palestine live under daily fear and uncertainty, their economic, social and cultural relationships severely curtailed, opportunities for young people, including footballers, restricted.

Yes, lots of countries are imperfect. But sometimes – as is the case most recently with Russia – we make decisions not to play football in countries whose governements are committing human rights atrocities. That does not imply a hatred of the citizens of those countries. And holding Israel accountable does not mean we believe the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, nor less Hamas, to be perfect, any more than opposing Russia’s invasion requires us to believe that Zelensky’s Ukrainian government is perfect. But in both cases, it is crystal clear who is the oppressor, who is systematically taking land, whose army is equipped with disproportionate firepower and which civilians are being killed or forced to flee their homes.

I’m not alone in thinking this. Millions around the world support the Palestinian cause, not because they are anti-Semitic nor paid-up supporters of Hamas, but because they see it as a fight for liberation.

Which makes me wonder whether Spurs’ marketing people really know what they are doing. In the Premier League’s battle for brand dominance and the support of faraway fans, what will be the price of yoking our club to the wrong side of history?

Oh, and, in case anyone wonders, I have no truck with holding the World Cup in Qatar, a country that denies LGBTQ+ rights and has a horrendous record on the exploitation of migrant workers. And yes, Newcastle’s new owners are implicated in multiple beheadings and are clearly unfit to lead a football club. More generally, there are plenty of incidents of sports-washing out there. So, this is not ‘only’ about Israel, nor is it about holding Israel up to standards we do not hold others to. But it is about Israel in this instance.

I’m speaking up now because it’s my club and I don’t want to be complicit. And while ostensibly about the men’s team if we take seriously the #oneclub approach (which is in most cases a good thing for the women’s game) we have to recognise that going ahead with this game may hurt Spurs Women’s global reputation as much as the men’s team. It may also alienate the ethnically diverse and globally aware young people that live in and around Tottenham and who should feel welcome at our club.

And when you come down to it, what are the upsides of a game organised to give Mourinho’s egomania and petty grudges the oxygen of publicity?

So, I hope that this is a decision that can be reversed.

Until then I hope that Spurs fans, players and staff speak out and make clear that we do not all condone our club’s decision, nor the ongoing actions of the state of Israel.

Am sure there are lots of people who disagree on this. Feel free to do so in the comments. But please avoid the use of anti-Semitic, Islamaphobic or otherwise discriminatory language. Thanks.

Meanwhile, apologies for straying away from Spurs Women for this one. As noted above, the international reputation and profile of our club affects both our men’s and women’s teams.

That said, future posts will revert to more of a Spurs Women focus.

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