Maccabi FC in Brussels – an inclusive sports team
Racism and antisemitism pervade European football, from the top professional to bottom amateur leagues. Amid the hate, one team stands out for its commitment to sportsmanship – Maccabi. Across the continent, the Maccabi teams formed by local Jewish communities are setting an example for sportsmanship on the field – and opening their ranks to all religions and races.
William Echikson, Director of the Brussels Office of the European Union of Progressive Judaism, tells the story of Maccabi:
My son Ben played for Maccabi Brussels. He was one of only three Jewish starters. Most of his teammates were of North African or sub-Saharan African origin and most were Muslim. When Ben couldn’t play on Yom Kippur, he explained to his teammates, most of whom never had met a Jew. During one game, a player yelled “dirty Jew” at one of his Muslim teammates, provoking a fistfight. At one point, Ben joined a higher-ranked Brussels football team to test his athletic skills. But his North African teammates began blaming him for “abusing Palestinians” and he soon returned to Maccabi.
Holocaust survivors launched the Brussels Maccabi team in 1953. In 2004, Flemish players from the village of Haren began shouting anti-Semitic chants, including “Hiss, Hiss, To the Camps!” The Belgian Football Association refused to disband the Haren team, so Maccabi’s club leaders launched a vocal public campaign against violence and racism. Today, Maccabi players wear a jersey with the logo “No violence. No racism.”
Brussels Maccabi’s welcoming spirit now reaches almost 300 players from age six to adult on a total of 14 teams, making makes it one of the city’s largest football clubs. Ben has moved onto university studies in the United States, but the lessons he learned at Maccabi remain strong. “It’s not like most Belgian football clubs,” the parent of one player of North African origin told me. “There’s a true spirit of tolerance.”