A pre-season match between Maccabi Haifa from Israel and Lille of France broke out in a frenzy when pro-Palestine supporters stormed the field and attacked the Israeli players on Wednesday in Bischofshofen, Austria.
Certain sections of the crowd displayed banners that demanded the liberation of Palestine.
The boiling tensions in the conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza strip has now erupted onto the soccer field.
“With Lille winning 2-0, supporters of reportedly Turkish origin entered the pitch and headed for the Maccabi players, including captain Yossi Benayoun, formerly of Chelsea, Liverpool and QPR,” reported The Guardian.
“One of the players is seen to trip a fan before punches were thrown. The Maccabi stars – some of whom retaliated – managed to leave the field unhurt.,” they added.
The coaching staff were forced to defend themselves as well.
“Salzburg police said around 20 people with flags and placards, mostly Austrians of Turkish origin, stormed the pitch shouting slogans about the Gaza conflict, in which more than 700 Palestinians have been killed and thousands displaced,” reported EuroSport.
Austrian authorities are investigating the situation.
“Police spokesman Ortwin Lamprecht said investigations are focused on whether the disturbance constituted a criminal act,” the AP reported.
“The disturbance was condemned by leading Austrian politicians. Chancellor Werner Faymann said such incidents are ‘not to be tolerated.’ Austrian Football Federation President Leo Windtner said the abuse of football as ‘a political stage … is unacceptable,’” they added.
The incident sets a worrying precedent. Though this time it was just punches and kicks being thrown, next time pitch invaders could -in theory- hurt a player seriously.
UEFA has already decided that Israeli clubs cannot host European matches because of the fighting in the region.