By Pablo Duer
Jerusalem, Jun 2 (EFE).- Hapoel Katamon Jerusalem FC is a fan-owned Israeli club that was born out of the dissatisfaction of supporters keen to create an organisation built on tolerance in a divided city.
The club has become a symbol of multiculturalism and the fight against homophobia and racism and its absence as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic has left a vacuum that is felt beyond the stadium’s empty seats.
On 19 February, the winter rain pelted down on Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium. Nearly 300 fans were huddled together in the stands forming a small red spot amid a sea of empty blue seats.
The fans were not aware of the fact this would be the last time they would watch their team play for several months.
But that was just the tip of the iceberg. The committed team behind Hapoel Katamon would soon be scrambling to find the resources to continue to pay players’ salaries over lengthy video calls.
The team, the first in Israel to be managed entirely by its fans, is fighting to promote to the first division and returned to the field Monday night after the first weekend of professional soccer in Israel since its suspension in early March.
It was a 1-0 victory for Katamon, created in 2007 by fans of the now-defunct Hapoel Jerusalem.
The association is linked to socialist Zionism and operates like a cooperative, an ethos that clashed with the club’s previous managers.
Although the times when the Internationale socialist anthem was sung at the end of games are long gone, the team’s red and black flags flutter in the stands alongside several others with anti-capitalist, anarchist and communist symbols and slogans.
Oren Feld, a member of the club, says the left-wing branch no longer represents the team: “Katamon does have left-wing fans, but it is very diverse. We have socialists, we have liberals, we have centrists and we have right-wingers too, though mostly moderates.”
Fans are united under a drive to reject racism and homophobia, regardless of their political ideology, he says.
Feld prefers the term pluralist to describe the club and highlights the importance of the social and community work of ??the institution as one of the pillars of Katamon.
Some of the community projects include, a weekly competition between teams made up of people with disabilities, a soccer school where at-risk young people receive educational support and a neighbourhood league that sees Muslim, Jewish and Christian children from more than 25 schools in the city mingle.
The program has positioned Katamon as a key community player in Jerusalem.
During the Covid-19 lockdown, the club carried out multiple fundraising activities to help some of the communities it works with and managed an enormous network of club volunteers who were in charge of buying provisions for people at risk of poverty.
Kike Rosenburt, an Argentine-Israeli who has been with the team since its founding, is proud that of the nearly 900 members of the club almost 50 are Latino, something that pushed him to create the Latinos de Katamon supporters club.
Rosenburt was drawn to the club’s community ethos, its democratic and horizontal management system, the defence of LGBT rights and a drive to boost the role of women in Israeli soccer.
In fact, for the first time in the history of Israeli soccer, Katamon has a female president.
Shay Aharon, top scorer and sports director of the club, adds that the Hapoel Katamon women’s soccer school is one of the best Israeli women’s teams and is named after Shira Banki, a young woman who was murdered by an ultra-orthodox Jew during the Jerusalem gay pride parade in 2015.