Friday, June 16, 2006


What is it about soccer and the Star of David?

Last spring, while traveling in Krakow, I kept seeing the same puzzling graffiti on walls around the city -- the word "Cracovia" with the V formed into a Star of David.

I eventually learned that Cracovia is Krakow's soccer team. Before WWII, it was one of the few, or perhaps the only, soccer team to allow Jews to play on it, and opposing clubs took to calling them the Cracovia Jews. Eventually Cracovia "supporters" adopted the name as their own in an act of civic pride (I wouldn't say religious tolerance). For a partial account, go here and scroll down. With Poland's Jewish population reduced from 3 million to about 5,000 by the Holocaust, I doubt Cracovia has any Jewish players today, but its fans still flaunt the Star of David.

Europe's more rabid football fans -- self styled "hooligans" -- make the most out-of-control American sports fans look dainty. They riot, stampede, assault one another. Every year, it seems, European soccer fans kill somebody.

"Cracovia hooligans" scrawled on a wall, Krakow, 2005
-- this one minus the Star of David

Earlier this week, Mexico played Iran in a World Cup match -- in Nuremberg! -- and about 1,200 people, waving Israeli flags, demonstrated outside the soccer stadium against Iranian President Ahmadinejad's recent statement asserting that the Holocaust was a "myth."

In the stadium itself, during the game, Mexico fans waved Israeli flags too. A show of solidarity with the demonstrators, or just hooligans flipping the bird to their opponents?


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