The reigning IFL champion Tel Aviv Pioneers take on the Ramat HaSharon Hammers. Photo credit: Stas Ivanov
It’s not fantasy football, but it is a football fantasy made real. Israel is going to the gridiron.
Meet Betzalel Friedman, the commissioner of the Israeli Football League. Some of you, myself included, played flag football while studying in Israel on the beautiful Kraft Field in Jerusalem. Well, things are taking off. I chatted with the IFL commish to talk about the kickoff of Israeli football.
Members of the Jerusalem Kings (purple) and Judean Rebels (orange) light Chanukah candles prior to playing in last year’s “Chanukah Bowl.” Photo credit: Rick Blumsack
Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Indianapolis, and (was) moved to Israel when I was 10. I learned in the Gush and served as an officer in the paratroopers. Married plus three.
What is the IFL and how did it form?
The IFL was formed 8 years ago by a bunch of football enthusiasts who teamed up with Patriots' owner Robert (and Myra z"l) Kraft to start the league. Kraft is still the main sponsor.
Where are the players coming from and how do you recruit?
Most players (over 70 percent) are actually Sabras. Recruiting is mostly by word of mouth, but the teams also go out to universities/city centers/malls etc.
Is football growing in Israel? What cities are represented?
Football is growing all over the country. We have teams in the Galilee, Haifa, Ramat HaSharon, Tel Aviv, Petah Tikva, Mazkeret Batya, Jerusalem (three teams) and Beersheva. We also have eight youth teams, plus flag football for men, women and children.
Is football big amongst Israeli youth? Is it mostly American
born interest or are native Israelis picking it up as well?
As I said, we're over 70 percent Sabra, and that's the goal. The sport will not grow if it's only a niche sport for Anglos.
Could you ever imagine a season like the Israel Baseball
League had with former NFLers?
We pride ourselves on being a grassroots organization and growing the sport from the bottom up, in stark contrast to the IBL, which tried to start big and fizzled out quickly. I'd much rather see an ex-NFLer come to coach our guys than come to play.
What's next for the IFL?
We are trying to promote the sport in Israel and at the same time raise support abroad to help our efforts. We believe that football could and should be the third largest team sport in Israel behind soccer and basketball.
Where can people follow the IFL?
Our website is www.ifl.co.il and our facebook is https://www.facebook.com/TheIflIsraelFootballLeague
Any last thoughts?
We've just started the Israeli National Team which will be quarterbacked by Alex Swieca and plan to compete in the 2016 Level C European Tournament.
Look out for the documentary called Touchdown Israel at Jewish Film Festivals soon.