Steve Leibowitz
Steve Leibowitz

Israeli football team set to take on the world

Israeli teams logo

The journey I am embarking on tomorrow began in 1989 when together with my friend Danny Gewirtz we started a small touch football league. Twenty seven year later, American Football in Israel boasts two thousand football players taking part in leagues across Israel, and taking the best in Israel to compete against some of the best international teams in the world.

Tomorrow morning Yonah Mishaan and I will fly to Italy as the advance group for Team Israel that will take off a day later to take part in the Qualifying tournament for the 2018 European Championship of American Football. I am the President of the American Football Federation and Mishaan is the coach of the tackle team as well as coach of the Women’s Flag team.

The Israeli team flying on Wednesday will be the largest Israeli team to ever fly abroad to take part in any sport. There are 63 Israelis making the journey including 45 players and 18 coaches, trainers and other support personnel.

On Friday morning Team Israel will play Italy and the game can be viewed live on YouTube with kickoff at 3 pm Israeli time (8 am EST). Here’s the link to watch the game:

Israel is very new to international tackle football and has played only one international game. That was last year in Madrid, and Israel managed to defeat Spain 28–20 to qualify for this week’s tournament, Friday through Sunday in Lignano, Italy.

National team Coach Yonah Mishaan
National team Coach Yonah Mishaan

If Israel manages to defeat Italy, then we will take the field against the winner of a game between Switzerland and Serbia to be played at the same venue after our game against Italy. If we lose, we will not advance, and will play the loser for third place in the tournament. Win or lose, our second game will be on Sunday. The winner of the tournament does not automatically advance to European “Group A” along with Germany, Austria, France and Finland. Instead the winner must face either Denmark or Sweden for the right to enter the top bracket on the continent.

Israeli men's flag football team
Israeli men’s flag football team

The day after the tournament in Italy, Mishaan and I will fly to Miami where we will join the 38 member Israeli men and women’s teams that will compete Sept. 8 – 11 in the World Championship of American Football. Israel has plenty of experience — and success — in flag football. Our men are currently ranked 6th in the world and the women are 9th. The Israeli women have earned European medals, but neither team has ever earned a medal at a World Championship.

Steve Leibowitz leading Israeli team on to the field to play Spain
Steve Leibowitz leading Israeli team on to the field to play Spain

The competition will be very tough. In the preliminary round, the men’s team will face world champion USA as well as Austria, Japan, Panama and New Zealand. The women will play European Champions Austria, Mexico, Brazil and Denmark. Both teams are expected to reach the quarter-finals that will be played on the final day of the games. Both teams have set their sights on reaching the podium of the world’s top three.

Sending about 100 people abroad is a very expensive proposition. Fortunately football in Israel has some great sponsors. The leading sponsor is New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who is a sponsor for the tackle team as well as the Women’s Flag team. Other sponsors of the tackle team are Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf, hedge fund owner Henry Swieca and a group affiliated with the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The Israeli Men’s Flag team is sponsored by NY businessman Ira Kleinman. NY attorney Michael Sage is sponsoring kosher food for both flag teams.

Israeli Women's Flag Football team
Israeli Women’s Flag Football team

During the next two weeks I plan to report on the results of the games in Lignano and Miami. In addition, I plan to report from the inside the huddles and locker rooms to give a sense of how the players are coping with the experience.

2016 European Qualifying tournament
2016 European Qualifying tournament
About the Author
Steve Leibowitz is a veteran journalist who moved from the U.S. to Israel in 1974. He is the president of American Football in Israel and the director of Kraft Family Stadium.